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Bayer to bring in more innovative drugs

By ZHENG YIRAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-07-15 07:22
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A view of the booth of Bayer AG at an expo in Shanghai. TANG YANJUN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

German life sciences company Bayer AG is confident about the rapidly developing Chinese pharmaceutical market and will continue to invest and bring more innovative products into the country, the head of its pharmaceuticals division said.

"China has been and remains one of our most important markets. It is developing fast and its healthcare system is becoming much more similar to what I am used to in Europe. It is the second-largest pharmaceutical market in the world now," said Stefan Oelrich, member of the board of management and president of the pharmaceuticals division of Bayer.

"China continues to flourish. With the Healthy China 2030 initiative, the government has put a clear focus on the health of Chinese citizens, which translates into a push for innovation in China," Oelrich said during a recent visit to China, his first since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Four years ago, when he took on his current role, Bayer was very Europe-centric, he said. However, over the past few years, the strength of China has been increasingly noticeable.

"As China speeds up approval of novel drugs, Chinese patients are able to get faster access to our innovative treatments. Compared to what is happening in Europe, you can do things much faster and more stringently in China," Oelrich said.

Since 2009, Bayer has introduced 19 innovative drugs with more than 30 new indications in China, data from the company showed.

"I am really pleased to see how quickly we received the approval for our innovative drugs, and the inclusion of some of them in the country's National Reimbursement Drug List," he said.

Stefan Oelrich, member of the board of management and president of the pharmaceuticals division of Bayer. [Provided to China Daily]

There were 17 trials ongoing in China in therapeutic areas such as cardiovascular, oncology, diagnostic imaging and hematology, he added.

To accelerate the introduction of its innovative medicines to the country, Bayer has been in discussions and collaboration with the Chinese government and local partners.

On July 10, Bayer and Peking University said they would extend their collaboration to foster the translation of basic research into drug discovery and development, while accelerating scientific research on cutting-edge technologies across the pharmaceutical value chain.

Academic collaborations have been an integral part of Bayer's longstanding commitment to fostering pharmaceutical innovation originating in China.

In 2009 and 2014, Bayer established strategic collaborations with Tsinghua University and Peking University, respectively. So far, Bayer and the two prestigious universities have carried out a total of 99 joint research projects on drug discovery and innovation.

China has been stepping up efforts to improve its business environment for drug innovation. On July 5, the Ministry of Commerce held a round-table, inviting foreign pharmaceutical companies that operate in China to share their operational status, problems and concerns.

"China has been ramping up efforts to promote high-quality opening-up, to bring more development opportunities to multinational corporations, including pharmaceutical enterprises. The Chinese government has made attracting foreign investment a priority, and has been constantly optimizing its business environment," said Wang Wentao, minister of commerce.

With the improved drug innovation environment, 109 new drugs were approved by the National Medical Products Administration between 2018 and 2022, including 12 first-in-class drugs, according to data from the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products.

Pan Yue, vice-secretary-general of a sub-chamber of the chamber, said: "Under the framework of the Healthy China 2030 strategy, China aims to provide better healthcare and medical services for all people. Driven by higher demand for health and changes in disease spectrum, R&D and innovation continue to be the main theme."

Oelrich of Bayer said: "It's a fact that China is the second-largest pharmaceutical market in the world. China remains one of our top priorities, and we will continue to bring more innovative drugs to the country."

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