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Insider tells of opportunities in Chinese pharmaceutical market

William Keller, general manager of Keller Pharma Consultancy Shanghai, reveals some insider information about the burgeoning Chinese pharmaceutical market

In an interview with Interfax China, William Keller, general manager of Keller Pharma Consultancy Shanghai and vice-general manager of Shanghai Zhangjiang Biotech & Pharmaceutical Base Development, gave some insider information about the burgeoning Chinese pharmaceutical market.

Keller has been working in China since 1990 and was general manager of Shanghai Roche Pharmaceuticals from 1994 to 2002. His company, Keller Pharma Consultancy, provides strategic solutions to investors in the Chinese pharmaceutical market, while Zhangjiang Biotech & Pharmaceutical Base Development is aiming to integrate resources of new drug development. 

Keller started by saying that the Chinese market had a different history from that of the EU or the US. It currently consisted of generic drugs produced by state-owned pharmaceutical companies, while innovative drugs are produced by multinational companies.

The opportunity for pharmaceutical companies would come from occupying the empty space between generics and ethicals. Keller said he hoped that the space would soon be filled with generic drug manufacturers, which would eventually grow to become innovative drug developers and manufacturers. He added that to transform the idea of new drug development to the market is central to success, and the companies with both new drug development and marketing abilities would become successful in the future.

Keller admitted that in the US and the EU the regulatory requirement on current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) was much more stringent than in China. He also thought that many Chinese companies were struggling to get to the marketing stage and that this could be a major challenge for such firms.

Keller remarked that it was interesting that many global pharmaceutical companies were outsourcing contract research more and more to China and that CROs in the region met or even exceeded global standards, which is why they won global contracts. He stated that the CRO market in the region would grow quite quickly, due to low initial set up and labour costs.

China's distribution market was too fragmented, warned Keller, and that local barriers would stop faster growth. The distribution can only become efficient based on the economies of scale, he added, and said he would be surprised if foreign investors came to the distribution market quickly.

Keller concluded by saying that the biggest opportunities in the Chinese market would be exploited by a product that addressed an unmet medical need. He said that China was always open to innovation and was looking for good and innovative products. In this way, China was no different to other markets.

24th September 2007

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