Malaysia: The Overlooked Emerging Market - Pharmaceutical Executive


Malaysia: The Overlooked Emerging Market

Pharmaceutical Executive

Hitherto low market penetration has partly resulted from certain cultural obstacles such as faith in spiritual healers, or Bomohs, according to Wong Kin San, CEO of Lundbeck. Angel Choi, country manager of Pfizer, also highlighted that conservative social taboos concerning sex had inhibited the development of the market for drugs treating sexual dysfunction. The presence of a strong traditional medicine industry, including traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, is a third barrier. Therefore through CSR and education programs there is significant scope for market development.

Map of Malaysia
Furthermore, economic growth is changing the lifestyle habits and epidemiological profile of the nation. Dr. David Quek, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, explains: "The big challenge now facing Malaysia is from non-communicable diseases. With increasing development, Malaysia has perhaps imported some bad habits and lifestyle changes from the West." Thirty percent of Malaysians are technically obese, while another 30% are overweight and 14.9% of the population has diabetes. Chronic diseases are therefore the new healthcare challenge for the country.

With such pressing health needs, there is a necessity to overcome Malaysia's geographical and infrastructural challenges to provide sufficient access to medicines. Rimolt praises the government for widening access to diabetes treatment, stating that "there are numerous initiatives to push treatments further down the healthcare system, all the way to the family physician in the kampongs (villages) of Sabah and Sarawak." With 1.85 million diabetes sufferers in Malaysia, companies with a strong diabetes focus such as Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly are posting double-digit growth. The worrying expansion of Malaysia's waistline is therefore presenting opportunities for innovator companies.

Dato' Sri Liow Tiong Lai, Malaysian Minister of Health
Finally, the proposed "1Care" Malaysia reforms are due to transform the healthcare system, creating a unified NHS-style, single-payer-system instead of the current dual system. According to Professor Kenneth Lee, head of pharmacy at Monash University and specialist in pharmacoeconomics, the proposed reforms will change the dynamic from a system focused solely on price to one making the value of treatment paramount. These reforms, which the Minister of Health, Dato' Sri Liow Tiong Lai says will occur over the next five years, should allow multinationals to revert to their standard business model, relying on innovative products rather than seeking other avenues of growth.


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