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Patricia Van Arnum was executive editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.
Asian countries are moving up the value chain for pharmaceutical outsourcing.
Large pharmaceutical companies rank China as the best location for outsourcing in Asia, followed by India, Korea and Taiwan, respectively, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers index. The index evaluates Asian countries according to cost, risk, and market opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry. The report suggests outsourcing to Asia is moving up the value chain, as low-cost production is eclipsed by a broad range of factors, including market potential and research and development (R&D) capacity as the drivers of growth.
"Within five to ten years, we will be moving from 'made in China' to 'discovered in China,'" said one pharmaceutical industry executive interviewed for the report. "Pharmaceutical companies need to make sure they are refining their strategies to make the most of the opportunities presented in Asian countries," said Michael Keech, director of the global pharmaceutical and life-sciences industry group at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "China and India will continue to spearhead growth in the Asian pharmaceutical sector, but, alongside those countries, Singapore will maintain its position as a center for research and innovation. While the trio of India, China, and Singapore are proving to be the 'hotspots' of the Asian pharmaceutical sector, other countries, notably Korea and Taiwan, are also going to be increasingly significant. The companies that will be most successful at making pharma outsourcing and location decisions will be those that are most adept at managing and mixing a range of contractual relationships and partnerships across a number of different locations."
According to the report, pharmaceutical companies in the United States and other developed countries are facing challenges that are constraining revenue growth and have a resulting need to look for new ways to boost drug-discovery potential, reduce time to market, and minimize costs. For example, only nine of the 18 new treatments launched in the US in 2006 came from the laboratories of the 13 companies that comprise Big Pharma.
The report highlights three significant developments that are shaping Asian pharmaceutical outsourcing:
•The trend toward high-end innovation. Intellectual property (IP) concerns have previously inhibited this trend in the pharmaceutical industry, but increasingly such concerns are being overcome and major moves are being made by large pharmaceutical companies to increase their drug-discovery investment in Asia.
• Rapid expansion of clinical trials in Asia. The volume of clinical trials being conducted in countries outside of Europe, North America, and Japan has been growing rapidly in recent years with Asian countries leading much of the growth. China has overtaken India as one of the fastest-growing locations. By June 2008, China had 428 clinical trials underway and registered on the website Clinicaltrials.gov and a cumulative total of 870 completed or ongoing trials compared with 737 clinical trials in India. Cost has been a critical factor in this expansion. For example, clinical trials are estimated to be up to 50% cheaper in India compared with the US.
• A scaling up of pharmaceutical manufacturing in Asia. An increased commitment to international standards, Asian contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) are securing more outsourcing orders from large pharmaceutical companies. In India, for example, there are more than 100 US Food and Drug Administration-approved pharmaceutical facilities, the largest number in any country outside the US, according to the report.
The report shows that China and India, followed by Korea and Taiwan, provide several benefits for the pharmaceutical industry, including a pool of educated and qualified scientists, IP law reform, and market growth. These trends are outweighing factors that had previously inhibited development, principally uncertain regulatory frameworks and enforcement.
Although significant risks remain, there is growing convergence with international regulatory standards. However, the report's authors point out that such convergence is also being felt in labor markets, with the result that traditionally wide wage differentials, compared with developed-country locations, are narrowing. Such convergence will continue to shrink the cost gap, prompted in part by the need for Asian countries to compete for high-end skills in an international labor market. India, for example, is already finding it difficult to recruit in certain areas such as clinical research personnel.
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