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Eli Lilly ready for successful ED treatment launch
By Xie Ye (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-11 09:09

US pharmaceuticals firm Eli Lilly and Company will continue to enlarge its investment in China, according to a senior company official, as it prepares to release an erectile dysfunction (ED) drug in the next two months.

China provides many opportunities for the company to grow, as the country will become one of the world's largest markets in the next five or 10 years, John C. Lechleiter, executive vice-president of Eli Lilly, said in Beijing over the weekend.

"We see China as very strategically important for our company," said Lechleiter.

Eli Lilly has a research centre in Shanghai and a pharmaceuticals manufacturing plant in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, employing 700 people.

Cialis, the company's ED drug, is one of the nine products Eli Lilly plans to introduce to the Chinese market in the next five years.

The products target a wide spectrum of symptoms, such as ED, cancer, mental disorders, and diabetes.

Eli Lilly will be the third foreign company approved to sell the "magic pill" in this country. US-based Pfizer introduced the blockbuster Viagra in 2000, followed by Levira of Bayer last year.

Foreign companies are scrambling to carve out a niche in China's huge market for anti-impotence drugs. Official statistics show more than half of men aged over 40 are afflicted with some degree of ED.

Lechleiter, a medical scientist in the company's lab before moving into management, said the recent approval by the Chinese authorities of its anti-impotence drug Cialis is "very significant" for the company as it aims to increase its presence in China.

It also helps further boost the company's rising role in the pharmaceuticals market in Asia as a whole, according to Lechleiter.

The executives of Eli Lilly distinguish their orange pill from the drugs produced by their competitors by touting its length of effectiveness. An ED sufferer does not have to rush into sexual activity immediately after swallowing the medicine, but can choose anytime in the 36 hours after he takes Cialis for romance.

But the executives are concerned that rampant imitation and counterfeit in China's pharmaceuticals sector may seriously damage its business interests.

Market observes estimate that more than half of all Viagra pills available on the Chinese market are counterfeit.

Chinese intellectual property rights authorities have revoked Pfizer's patent for Viagra in China, claiming the company breached China's intellectual property laws. But Pfizer is appealing against the decision.

Lechleiter and his colleagues visited Shanghai and Beijing last week to meet business partners and officials from the Ministry of Health and the State Food and Drug Administration. Intellectual property rights protection is a major sticking point about which the company wants to seek assurances from government officials.

"We are very pleased with the response from the Chinese officials. But we both recognize that continuous progress needs to be made," said Lechleiter.

Without sufficient intellectual property rights protection, Eli Lilly's business is exposed to huge risk as it costs the company US$1 billion to develop a new drug.

Although tremendous progress has been made in policy and implementation of regulations in the last decade, there are situations when the protection of intellectual property rights is undermined, said Lechleiter.

The company has to "periodically" turn to the government for remedy support, he added.

But the firm's executives are confident of the success of Cialis in China. The medicine has already grabbed much of the market share in other Asian countries and regions, including South Korea and Taiwan.

Eli Lilly's revenue skyrocketed to US$525 million in 2004 from US$203 million after Cialis was introduced to the US market last year.

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