China: A Destination for Oncology Drug Development
By: Helena Zhang, MD | April 07, 2015
China’s recent surge in higher income families, its growing aging population and steady growth in biopharmaceutical sales suggest significant market potential in the future. The current landscape for biopharmaceutical development in China is certainly emerging, but challenges remain. It creates opportunities for local biopharmaceutical companies to establish dominance in the global marketplace if they can overcome several hurdles such as early phase development, regulatory oversight, biomarker driven studies and clinical trial data quality.
This has been a difficult journey. In the past, Chinese biopharmaceutical industry has suffered under the perception that they are better at following than innovating, which has limited their impact on global research and their ability to bring new treatments to market. Yet that is beginning to change. Over the past ten years, the Chinese government, academic organizations and biopharmaceutical companies have been working to transition the nation from a consumer of generic drugs into a developer of innovative therapies, specifically as it pertains to cancer treatments.
The Chinese government has taken steps to strengthen intellectual property rights and made regulations more amenable to biopharma innovation as it targets the discovery of 100 new drugs by 2020. And the progress they have made is impressive. The number of clinical trials performed in the country has risen steadily, especially for oncology drug development. We’ve also seen more recent examples of treatments being developed and independently brought to market successfully by Chinese companies. Zhejiang Beta Pharma developed Icotinib, an epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine-kinase inhibitor. It proves that not only can local firms meet global quality standards in the process of drug development, they also deliver products with better tolerability and similar effectiveness at a lower cost. Gastric cancer candidate, the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR) inhibitor apatinib, was developed by Chinese researchers. Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co., Ltd. advanced the drug into Phase III development and finally approved for marketing in China, suggesting its anti-angiogenic approach has potential in heavily pre-treated patients with metastatic gastric cancer.
These oncology projects, coupled with advances in manufacturing and research in the country demonstrates that Chinese organizations are more than able to deliver leading edge cancer research that meets both the local and global needs of patients.
Meet local needs locally
Such growth in the local biopharma marketplace is not just important to decrease treatment expenditures. It is vital to the millions of Chinese patients with China-specific type cancers who are not always best served by treatments designed for western countries.
Many global pharmaceutical companies fail to take into account the unique characteristics and medical needs of patients in Asia. It means the treatments that come to global market, are sometimes not as effective for Chinese patients as they are for those in other countries. For example, patients with gastric cancer in China and the West having different epidemiology, etiology, tumor location and other defining factors, making a treatment developed for overseas markets not entirely satisfying.
China is already the third largest pharmaceutical market in the world, but it will not settle for treatments that were created to solve other people’s problems. Increased investment in innovative drug development and continued regulatory reforms are bolstering the industry and making it possible for Chinese biopharma companies to better meet the needs of its massive population.