According to the latest figures from IMS Health, Inc., Japan's pharmaceutical market is expected to grow 1–2% this year compared to global industry growth expectations of 5–6%. Despite the lower forecast, Japan is still the largest market in the Asia-Pacific region and the second largest individual market in the world after the US. But China and India are catching up. According to IMS Health's 2006 world market report, Japan's pharmaceutical sales declined by 0.4% between 2005 and 2006 to $64 billion, whereas China's sales grew 12.3% to $13.4 billion, and India's grew 17.5% to $7.3 billion during the same time period.
One reason Japan's industry may not be growing as quickly compared to other parts of the world may be the country's regulatory system. It takes an average of four years to get a new drug approved compared to the average 18 months it takes in the United States and Europe. As a result, far fewer drugs are available in Japan and those that are available worldwide take much longer to hit the Japanese market.
But the Japanese aren't just sitting back and watching their numbers slide. Just last year, the country's Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency set out to hire 240 new drug reviewers over a period of three years to help bring its drug approval process more in line with US and European timeframes. Also in 2007, Japan launched a five-year action plan (2007–2011) and "new vision" for its pharmaceutical industry. After a series of dialogues between government, industry, and academia, a group of representatives agreed to focus on innovation and international competitiveness, according to progress reports from Japan's Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (JPMA), a 75-member organization. Among the action plan goals are the creation of a New Drug Research Promotion Council, financial aid for medical institutions to carry out clinical research, greater industry-government collaboration, and personnel development geared toward drug discovery.
Japan's expenditures for research and development (R&D) in 2004, the latest data available according to the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, totaled $907.7 billion as compared to $642.2 billion approximately a decade earlier. The largest Japanese companies (Takeda, Astellas, Eisai, Daiichi and Sankyo, Chugai, Shionogi, Tanabe, and Taisho), reports JPMA, spent an average of 14.2% of their sales on R&D in 2004 as compared to 11.1% in 1999.
With even more resources, collaboration, and attention being paid to the R&D side of Japan's pharmaceutical market, it looks as though the country intends to catch up to the US, or at least make sure it stays ahead of its Asian-Pacific neighbors.