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China seen as No. 2 drugs market by 2015

NEW YORK (Reuters) - China is set to overtake Japan as the world’s second-biggest pharmaceuticals market after the United States in 2015, a leading industry expert said on Monday.

The new forecast reflects rapid economic growth and Beijing’s commitment to continued healthcare investment, Murray Aitken, senior vice president for pharmaceutical market information company IMS Health, told the Reuters Health Summit.

China’s ascent to the No. 2 spot in just five years time may surprise some, but Aitken said his company had been forced to continually revise up its numbers for the country in the face of soaring demand for Western medicines.

“China continues to grow a little faster than we expected and we don’t see any sign that momentum is slowing down. Each year we tend to underestimate how fast China will grow,” he told the meeting at Reuters office in New York.

China, which is predicted by IMS to see drug sales increase 25-27 percent to more than $50 billion next year, is currently the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical market.

As sales growth in Europe, the United States and Japan stalls and many blockbusters lose patent protection, new markets -- particularly in Asia and Latin America -- are being targeted by makers of both prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

With its rising middle class, China is the biggest prize.

EUROPEANS HAVE EDGE

Overall, IMS forecasts that 17 emerging markets will account for around 50 percent of global growth in pharmaceutical sales worldwide over the next five years, making them an irresistible target for Western manufacturers.

The current leaders in the space include some smaller players with a long history of access to a wide range of countries, such as Germany's Bayer AG BAYGn.DE, the inventor of Aspirin.

Aitken said other European drugmakers had also been growing well and investing hard in emerging markets in recent years, including Sanofi-Aventis SA SASY.PA, AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L and GlaxoSmithKline Plc GSK.L.

“These are all European companies and it seems, in general, that those companies are more likely to have had a position in emerging markets longer and be more familiar with them,” he said.

“They have also had to pursue growth beyond the developed markets perhaps more than U.S.-based companies that have been disproportionately strong in the U.S.”

Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Dave Zimmerman

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