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Upsurge in China's Innovative Drugs

Source: | 2024-04-19 10:03:56 | Author:

Workers work on a pharmaceutical capsule production line in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province in November 2021. (PHOTO: XINHUA)

By LIANG Yilian

China is modernizing its pharmaceutical industry and developing new quality productive forces at a faster pace. During this year's Two Sessions, developing innovative drugs was written into the Government Work Report for the first time, indicating a greater boost for China's domestic innovative drug industry.

Rapid R&D growth

In February, a report released by National Medical Products Administration said 40 innovative drugs were approved in 2023, compared with 12 in 2019. They cover drugs for major diseases such as tumors and autoimmunity, as well as sleep disorders, reducing blood lipids and other treatment areas for which social demand has increased in recent years. In the past five years 138 innovative drugs were approved, showing sustained growth.

Boosted by supportive programs such as the National Science and Technology Major Projects and reforms, there has been a surge in new drug R&D enterprises. Established players like Qilu Pharmaceutical, CSPC Pharmaceutical Group and other traditional pharmaceutical companies are accelerating their transformation, committed to the R&D of new drugs and improving their independent innovation capabilities.

Before 2012, there was only a handful of domestic innovative drugs. "The rapid development of domestic innovative drugs has not only greatly improved the access to drugs for patients, but also significantly reduced the [financial] burden for patients," said Cheng Zengjiang, vice president of China Food and Drug Corporation Quality and Safety Promotion Association.

Global expansion of innovation

In November 2023, fruquintinib, a new anti-tumor drug developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company HUTCHMED, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prescribed in the U.S. within 48 hours of its approval.

"The year 2023 can be called a milestone year for the overseas launch of domestically produced innovative drugs. Not only did an unprecedented number of drugs go overseas, but also several significant breakthroughs were achieved," said Li Ning, CEO of Junshi Biosciences.

This momentum has persisted in 2024, with Chinese pharmaceutical companies securing 18 out-licensing deals in January alone, marking a 260 percent increase compared to the same period in 2023.

Fostering a supportive environment

Unlike generic drugs, innovative drugs have a long development cycle, require high investment and carry high risk, according to Song Ruilin, executive president of the China Pharmaceutical Innovation and Research Development Association. Song said developing innovative drugs demands sustained support and a conducive ecosystem.

The Chinese government has prioritized developing the healthcare industry, emphasizing enhancing drug accessibility. Christophe Weber, CEO of Takeda Pharmaceuticals, said, "We have seen a huge modernization of the pharmaceutical market, with many more innovative medicines being approved and reimbursed."

Editor: 梁依莲

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