Medicines in emerging markets


Fast-growing economies such as China and India could provide lucrative new markets for Europe's pharmaceutical industry, but emerging nations are investing heavily in their own medicines sector and look set to challenge Western dominance of the healthcare market.

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Europe's strong pharmaceutical sector has been eyeing up the potential of emerging markets for some time and new free trade agreements may help increase exports to fast-growing populations where people are now living longer and becoming relatively wealthier.

European medicines manufacturers are looking to Asia for new markets for existing products as well as the chance to develop medicines for diseases which are less common in the developed world.  Some estimates suggest emerging countries could account for up to 25% of future pharmaceutical revenues.

However, the indigenous pharma and biotech sectors in emerging nations look set to change the game. Not only are they keen to produce medicines for their own people but it now seems likely that the big names in future drug innovation will come from Asia.

When Chinese firm BGI became the world leader in gene sequencing capacity earlier this year, it confirmed what analysts have been predicting for some time: emerging global powers are moving into pole position in developing the medicines and diagnostics of the future. 

Experts believe that so-called 'high throughput' research infrastructure will be the key to innovation in the health sector, particularly when it comes to diagnosing (and predicting) illnesses and developing personalised medicines.  

Ten years ago, gene sequencing was a slow, laborious process. Now, with the help of technological advances and an army of technicians, high-tech underdogs can leapfrog incumbent market leaders within a couple of years. In a world where size matters, China, India, Brazil, Russia, Turkey and Indonesia have the capacity to leave Europe in their wake.

Despite the rapid pace of progress, a host of hurdles remain for the new world economies, including historically weak education systems, infrastructure deficits, and the ongoing battle against counterfeit medicines.