Malaysia: The Overlooked Emerging Market

May 01, 2011

Ipoh Hills, by Chong Hon Fatt
Without a doubt, Malaysia shares all the major attributes of an emerging market, from the potential to expand market penetration to the increasing purchasing power of the population. So the question is: Why have only two multinationals established manufacturing facilities in the country? Why was Malaysia not added to IMS Health's 17 "pharmerging markets" last year? Essentially, why has Malaysia thus far not been a priority for global pharma companies?

The orangutan in the room is that with a population of just 28 million, Malaysia has simply been easy to overlook. Malaysia is no China (1.3 billion), India (1.2 billion), Indonesia (243 million) or even Thailand (67 million). According to figures from the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PHAMA), the overall size of the market for prescription and OTC drugs is currently just US$ 1.63 billion.

However, despite its size, Malaysia presents strong growth opportunities. Factors such as rising income per capita, better medical diagnosis, increasing longevity, the growing preponderance of chronic diseases, and emerging consumer health consciousness are fueling a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% from 2009 to 2014.

Christopher Rimolt, Country Manager, Eli Lilly
Christopher Rimolt, country manager of Eli Lilly says: "The government is targeting accelerated economic performance on the way to developed-nation status and wants to raise the average income per capita substantially through GDP growth ... To me this represents a country where not just Eli Lilly, but the majority of pharmaceutical companies, will want to be present." Pang Tse-Ming, managing director of Emerging Pharma (EP+), also sees great potential in this market, arguing, "Malaysia has a population of 28 million compared to Taiwan's 24 million, yet the Taiwanese pharmaceutical market is six times the size of the Malaysian market. This serves as evidence for the significant growth potential of Malaysia."

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