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Chinese firms ready to take on Viagra

2014-07-02 08:41 Global Times Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Generic ED drugs waiting for govt green light

Chinese drug makers are readying themselves to make forays into the anti-erectile dysfunction drugs market with cheaper homegrown generic drugs as the patent of the world's largest drug maker Pfizer's Viagra, a popular pill for erectile dysfunction (ED), become invalid in the Chinese market.

Contrary to reports that Viagra's patent would expire on Monday, the Chinese branch of Pfizer confirmed with the Global Times on Tuesday that the patent had expired on May 12.

"Pfizer will continue to offer the Viagra products to Chinese customers who experience ED, and they will have undisrupted access to the drug they've known and have grown to trust in," a Pfizer China PR manager, who declined to be named, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

A PR manager with Chinese drug maker Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings (GPH), who only gave her surname as Huang, said GPH has been researching its own version of Viagra as early as the 1990s.

GPH even employed Nobel-winning pharmacologist Ferid Murad in 2012 to oversee the research and development of the drug at its subsidiary Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical General Factory.

"Currently, the Baiyunshan version of Viagra is waiting for the green light from the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). But Baiyunshan has already readied itself in drug production, has formed sales teams, and is working on preliminary work on marketing and branding of the Baiyunshan Viagra," said the PR manager.

A staff member, who asked to remain anonymous, with the president's office of domestic drug maker Chengdu-based Diao Group, declined to comment on Global Times' inquiry on the planned production date and price about the company's generic "Viagra," saying it is premature to discuss these matters as the drug is still pending approval from the CFDA.

However, the person confirmed that his company had handed in the application as early as 2004.

Besides GPH and Diao, there are nine other drug makers in China that have applied for licenses to allow them to produce generic Viagra, the National Business Daily (NBD) reported on Tuesday.

Globally, the market presence of Viagra has faced sizable challenges after its patents expired.

Viagra global sales dropped by 8 percent to $1.88 billion in 2013 as its US patent run expired, as a vast number of generic drugs mushroomed in the market, the NBD report said.

When Viagra's patent become obsolete in May 17, 2012, over 28 variants of generic drugs performing roughly the same function hit the shelves overnight, reducing Viagra's sales in May 2012 in South Korea by 43 percent, the same report said.

In Thailand, Pfizer was forced to drop the price of Viagra by 30 percent to compete with locally produced generic drugs, which are only priced at 10 percent the price of Viagra, according to the report.

Generic drugs are usually cheaper than brand-name drugs, said industry insiders. Currently, Viagra and its Western peers are sold at above 100 yuan ($16.01) per pill.

"Patent drugs are much more expensive than generic drugs as the developers have invested a huge amount of money to invent the drug and undergo clinical tests," an industry analyst told the Global Times on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

The application-approval process takes about three to five years to complete, the analyst said, noting that if drug makers want to blitz the market soon after the Pfizer patent ends, they would have had to submit their applications years ago.

Although Chinese generic versions of Viagra are still being held back by the government, the once-dominant position of Viagra is facing competition from Western peers.

Yang Liang, a manager of US drug maker Eli Lilly and Company, which makes Cialis, told the Global Times on Tuesday his company's product is now the top choice in drug retail stores for anti-ED drugs sales in cities including Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province and Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

A report by Bejing-based Guosen Securities Co in May said the flooding of cheaper Viagra alternatives into the market will fully unlock the potential of the domestic anti-ED drug market, multiplying the market scale from the current few billion yuan to dozens of billions of yuan.

The same report also suggests the number of Chinese ED patients stood at around 140 million.

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