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China Still Lags in Medical R&D

Some say Chinese pharmaceutical companies put too much emphasis on marketing and not enough on research

By Zhang Qingchen Updated May.16

China scrapped import tariffs on 28 drugs – including all imported cancer drugs and several other medicines – from May 1. While the decision will help Chinese cancer patients save money on their treatment, it also reveals China's own shortcomings in medical research and development, the news portal Jiemian reports.  

The outlet blames the fact Chinese pharmaceutical companies put too much emphasis on marketing and not enough on research. Although the importance of independent medical research to China's development has been acknowledged in recent years, it remains far behind the developed world. 

China is the world's largest exporter of generic drugs. After foreign drug patents expire, Chinese pharmaceutical companies apply to produce their generic versions. According to China's Center for Drug Evaluation (CDE), 86 percent of the 278 domestically produced drugs approved to be sold on the Chinese market in 2017 were generics. These drugs were insufficient to meet the needs of Chinese patients, an unnamed National Health Commission official said.  

Further, a slow vetting process results in sluggish domestic medicine development. The State Council and the CDE have made efforts to speed up the process over the past two years, including by recruiting new staff. This has had an impact and reduced the number of overstocked drugs, the report says.  

The central government has also created incentives to improve domestic medication development. A draft policy released by the State Administration for Market Regulation in April proposes that drugs developed in China should be given automatic 12-year patent protection, and stresses the need to boost quality and efficacy among domestic generics.