The New Pharmaceutical Frontier

SINGAPORE – It has been a challenging decade for the pharmaceutical industry. With patents expiring in high numbers, new-product pipelines drying up, and intensifying competition from generics, branded pharmaceuticals have been haemorrhaging value.

At the same time, traditional markets are becoming saturated. Stark realities in industrialized countries – such as the impact of aging populations on tax-based and employer-funded health-care models – are leading governments to adopt regulatory regimes that demand more economical, value-based, and transparent drug pricing.

Under these circumstances, emerging markets present a new frontier. Originally attractive for offering low-cost production, developing countries now present a viable market for multinational corporations. The pharmaceutical industry has been eyeing this trend for a while. A recent study predicts that sales in 17 “pharmerging” countries – including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam – will “in aggregate expand by $90 billion during 2009-2013.”

But in many emerging economies, a large proportion of the population is poor, and those who are not remain vulnerable to falling into poverty in times of crisis. Healthcare is financed largely out-of pocket – up to 60% in Asia – and many countries shoulder a “triple disease burden” of “old” diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, new infectious diseases like Influenza A (H1N1), and a “silent pandemic” in the form of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The challenges surrounding access to medicines remain critical, and, indeed, relevant to the industry’s business model.