Is China's drug industry really better than India's?

Bruce Einhorn

Sorry to pile on, but there’s another report out questioning the ability of India to compete against China. Bain & Co. has released a survey of pharmaceutical executives that concludes that, despite the growth of India’s pharma industry and the aggressive moves by Indian drugmakers like Dr. Reddy’s and Ranbaxy to come up with products that can compete against the best of the West’s Big Pharma, China is a better place than India to make low-cost drugs. “The results released in New Delhi, reveals that nearly 90 percent of pharmaceutical executives considered China a better choice than India for low-cost drug manufacturing,” according to a report here in Silicon India. Here’s how the Hindustan Times headlines a story on the same report: “China outshines India as pharma base: Report.”

Lest I get criticized by Asiatech readers for again showing a pro-China bias, some big caveats worth noting before we award this round to China. For one, China’s leaders may have ambitions to build their pharma industry, but so far there is no Chinese company that can match the achievements of a Dr. Reddy’s or a Ranbaxy, both of which have been patiently building their drug-discovery divisions and aggressively expanding into markets in the U.S. and Western Europe. Maybe a Chinese drugmaker will break through, but that’s probably still a way off.

And China’s got a spotty record, to put it nicely, when it comes to drug safety. I’ve written about some of the pharma scandals (here and here) that led to patient deaths following lax enforcement of regulations. And just days after Bain released its survey showing China ahead of India as a drugmaking base, news was breaking of yet another Chinese pharma scandal. According to the People’s Dailyfour Chinese people are suspected of dying as a result of taking a tainted antibiotic made in Anhui Province in southeastern China. Meanwhile, the People’s Daily also reports, “an increasing number of patients from Qinghai, Guangxi, Zhejiang, Heilongjiang and Shandong have complained about symptoms ranging from chest pains, stomach ache, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and anaphylactic shock” after getting injections of the antibiotic.” India’s drugmakers aren’t perfect, of course, but based on the unfortunate recent track record of China’s pharma companies, you have to wonder whether there really that many Americans who would be willing to take a chance on Chinese-made medicine.

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