Drug research heads to Asia as local markets boom

LONDON (Reuters) - Drug research and development is on the rise in Asia as local companies move up the value chain and international firms increase their clinical trial work in the region, according to a new report from Thomson Reuters.

Asian drugmakers, traditionally reliant on manufacturing bulk ingredients and making cheap generic medicines, are these days pouring money into researching their own products, as well as mounting risky patent challenges against brand name drugs.

At the same time the number of patients recruited into clinical trials by international drugmakers in Asia has shot up, as Western groups eye the potential of fast-growing emerging markets like China and India.

In 2002 53 percent of patients recruited into clinical trials globally were from North America -- but by 2008 that figure was down to 32 percent.

Asia Pacific, meanwhile, increased its share of clinical trial patients from 6 percent to 11 percent, while Europe showed marginal growth from 14 to 17 percent, according to the report from CMR International, a Thomson Reuters business..

“U.S. and European pharmaceuticals are looking increasingly to place clinical work in Asian countries,” said Hans Poulsen, head of life sciences consulting at Thomson Reuters.

“It’s a business decision. These economies are growing, people have more disposable income and they are spending more on healthcare, so the markets are growing.”

More clinical trials and greater investment in drug development is a boon for Asia’s local pharmaceuticals industry and should accelerate access to innovative medicines for the local population.

In the long term it could also shift the balance of power in the drugs sector.

“It is not clear, however, if this trend will be seen as an opportunity for collaboration, or an increase in competition for multinational companies,” Poulsen said.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Greg Mahlich