Government: Big Pharma's Best Friend in Emerging Markets? - Pharmaceutical Executive


Government: Big Pharma's Best Friend in Emerging Markets?

Pharmaceutical Executive

When should a CVP be used?

Today, pharma companies seem to be divided into two camps—those that are successful in developing innovative medicines and those that are struggling to keep up, only producing "me-too" products. Both can benefit from a strong CVP to secure market access in these emerging markets. Companies with innovative products can leverage a CVP for early market access, but companies with just "me-too's" can use a CVP to bolster their weaker market position.

A robust CVP may not be right for each company in each market. Many CVP's require substantial capital investments in-country, even at a time when companies are closing factories and R&D facilities in other parts of the world. In addition, there are the challenges of operating manufacturing and R&D facilities in these countries. Smaller, confidence-building steps like clinical trials or packaging operations might be the best way to start a CVP. One concern for pharmaceutical companies is respect for intellectual property (IP) and the application of the rule of law. For example, in China, investments are often needed to support market access, and these investments usually require a voluntary transfer of IP, even though pharma (like many companies in research-based sectors) still have major concerns about enforcement. In Russia, the government is looking to rebuild the local pharmaceutical industry. The government has set out its plans with the "Pharma 2020" strategy that focuses on local manufacturing, R&D in designated clusters, and partnerships with local companies. Firms that tailor their CVP to the "Pharma 2020" strategy will clearly benefit. However, experience shows that companies need to be very careful in selecting their future partners. In Brazil, the government looks to pharma companies to form public-private partnerships if they want to have wide access for their products and vaccines in key therapy areas. These investments and transfers of IP look like good deals today, but when evaluated over a five-year period, the Brazilian partners could emerge as capable competitors to global firms, at least in their region. Big Pharma must be sure that it will maintain its ability to produce innovative products or they risk being overtaken by world-class competitors from these emerging countries.

It can be difficult for a company to make efficient decisions about which CVP to offer and where, when faced with demands from every regional manager. One lesson is that companies should consider their global options, and their own estimate of their comparative advantage going forward, in deciding on the content of a CVP.

Likewise, as pharma re-orientates itself from Europe towards the emerging markets, European governments may question the lack of a strong CVP in their country and take steps to limit market access.

Some companies, primarily the European-based firms, appear to have embraced the need for a robust CVP in emerging markets by quickly investing in manufacturing, R&D facilities, and partnerships with local companies. Others appear to approach the investment much more cautiously, as they first try to reduce their cost base before investing in these markets. These companies risk missing out on the exceptional growth that the emerging markets can deliver.

The future

In a fast-moving and sometimes uncertain world, pharma companies are going to have to become truly global companies with no special allegiance to a specific country, and with a management team that reflects a global experience and strategy. For the US government this then poses a question: To what extent should the US government pursue an industrial policy to encourage pharmaceutical companies, particularly US companies, to invest in the US rather than overseas in emerging markets?

For pharma companies, investment choices should be based on whether they can support worldwide business growth, which may lead to some difficult trade-offs. For example, investing today in R&D in Boston provides access to first-class academic institutions, but will do little to lift revenues in the short-term. However, new innovative medicines should eventually develop from these R&D investments. On the other hand, investing in R&D as part of a CVP in some of the emerging markets will probably provide short- to medium-term incremental efficiencies. The long-term impact of the choice probably still favors Boston, but Shanghai and other emerging market R&D centers are closing the gap. US policy makers must consider how this shift in investment strategy towards emerging markets will affect the long-term health of US pharma and US-centered innovative R&D.

Nigel Thompson is senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group and former executive director for economic strategy for emerging markets at Merck. He can be reached at


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