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Big Pharma increases Chinese R&D investment

At the International Pharmaceutical Federation in Beijing, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly and Pfizer reveal details of their new China-based research centres

At the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) held in Beijing, AstraZeneca (AZ), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Eli Lilly and Pfizer have revealed details of their new China-based research centres.

A July 2007 report from the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission in July revealed that international drug companies have to date invested more than USD 500m to establish R&D centres in the region.

The increased investment in China is no doubt prompted by Novartis' announcement that it would pull its current programme of R&D investment from India after it lost a court battle in the region to protect incremental innovation patents for its cancer drug, Glivec (imatinib).

The Swiss-headquartered firm said it would transfer its investments, which amounted to many hundreds of millions of US dollars, to China, which has much stricter intellectual property laws.

Patent filing activity by Western pharmaceutical firms in India has been intense, especially with regards to HIV medications, as India has one of the largest HIV-infected populations.

Merck & Co, GSK, Boehringer-Ingelheim (B-I), Bayer Healthcare and Janssen Pharmaceuticals have each have filed two to three patent applications for existing molecules with incremental changes, according to the Indian Lawyers Collective. The filings are almost identical in nature to those put forward by Novartis for Glivec.

For example, Merck has filed for its investigational HIV molecule raltegravir at the Delhi and Chennai patent offices, while GSK's three applications for its HIV antiviral amprenavir were filed at Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Roche has filed twice for saquinavir, another HIV drug, at Chennai.

Others filings in India include two by B-I for BILR 355 BS, a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI), filed at patent offices in Mumbai and Delhi, while two more applications have been filed by Janssen for rilpivirine filed at Mumbai and Delhi offices. German drug maker, Bayer, has also filed two patent applications for its anti-tuberculosis drug Moxifloxacin at the Mumbai patent office.

It is possible, however, that these filings could fail in the same way as Novartis' Glivec case did. As a result, China is seen as the next logical choice for cheap labour and set up costs, with regards to R&D activities.

IMS Health data says that about USD 29bn worth of prescription medicine patents in the US have expired in the last two years or are about to expire.

20th September 2007

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