Cracking the Code to Commercial Promise in Asia

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-10-01-2022, Volume 42, Issue 10

Global go-to-market strategies in region require a revamped gameplan.

While the Asia-Pacific region’s importance has been increasingly recognized by most pharmaceutical companies, many also see it as a hard market to crack. They’re right.

First, Asia is not a homogeneous market. China’s policy, access, and reimbursement environments are distinctly different from those of India and Indonesia, and more affluent markets such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore each feature very different healthcare systems despite similar GDP per capita.

Second, Asian markets tend to be dynamic and fast evolving. China, for example, has seen ongoing healthcare reform in recent years. The reform has been driven by the central government, as well as local authorities such as Hainan and the Greater Bay Area, which offer early access options for innovative therapies. In addition, alternative reimbursement opportunities such as commercial health insurances (CHIs) are developing fast. City CHIs, for example, have mushroomed in a mere three years, expanding to 200 cities from just a handful, covering over 100 million people in China. This underscores the speed and momentum of change in Asia that’s rarely seen in the rest of the world.

Some Asian markets also are intertwined in many ways. Regulatory approvals in Hong Kong and Macau would help secure early access to China, while prices in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan are referenced for China’s national reimbursement drug listing.

Given the importance and complexity of Asian markets, global pharma companies would benefit from a strategic approach, focused on executing, in parallel, a two-pronged gameplan.

Asia playbook 1: Capturing growth

A good starting point is to group different markets into key archetypes, taking into account characteristics such as regulatory, pricing, and reimbursement potential, as well as clinical practices and competitive dynamics that may differ from one archetype to another.

Systematic prioritization is then needed to identify must-win markets. Take a rare disease drug, for example. It would be tempting to first launch it in the market with the fastest regulatory approval, but that may limit its commercialization in other markets, especially those with larger patient populations and higher pricing potential.

To derive better understanding of the must-wins, deep dives with healthcare practitioners, patients, and payers in those markets will help gain valuable insights into key value drivers. Embedding these considerations in development and launch plans will go a long way toward improving the value, pricing, and access potential of the asset in those markets, and toward a robust roadmap across Asia.

Asia playbook 2: Mapping out roles

Asia has more roles to play beyond simply being a “growth market,” ranging from R&D to manufacturing and supply chain, as well as cross-border partnerships and business model innovation.

In terms of R&D and innovation, leading large pharmas have been increasingly inclusive of Asia in global development plans and multiregional clinical trials for key assets. In addition, Asia has become the source of innovation for certain diseases, given the differences in epidemiology and ethnicity, as well as the large population base and patient pool. The continent has also been at the forefront of business model innovation, partly due to the dynamic and competitive nature in the region. Large Pharma companies have been revamping the traditional go-to-market model. Besides upgrading engagements with physicians, once considered the foremost stakeholders, some are building partnerships with healthcare providers to improve diagnosis and treatment standards. They’re also seeking innovative ways to work with patients and advocacy groups to improve disease awareness, adherence, and outcomes.

To be effective in these engagements, especially in China, digital tools and mobile platforms have been deployed to improve user experiences, stickiness, and real-world outcomes. For example, a pharma firm has built digital platforms in partnership with JDHealth and AliHealth, which empowered patients by providing them with a one-stop solution from disease education to online consultation, prescription fulfillment, and adherence reminders. At the same time, it affords unprecedented customer insights, thanks to artificial intelligence and big data. It also helps pinpoint unmet needs and builds lifetime relationships with patients and patient families alike.

Shiying He and additional collaborators in Simon-Kucher’s life sciences division in Shanghai contributed to this article.

Bruce Liu, partner at Simon-Kucher & Partners, leading its life sciences division in greater China