Research (and marketing) heads to Asia

Hardly a week goes by without some new announcement related to the growing nexus between biotechnology and China. Big Pharma, engaged in wholesale restructuring in anticipation of dwindling revenue, has made the biggest splash. Pfizer opened an R&D facility in China in 2005 and says it will keep on beefing up its Shanghai operations. Earlier this year the Financial Times found that China was home to 274 registered clinical trials, putting it in the lead over India. That's still fairly small in the drug discovery world, but the numbers are definitely headed upward--fast.

Meanwhile, Pfizer is sinking $300 million into R&D in Korea. And a big slate of drug researchers have taken advantage of incentives available in Singapore in recent years to shift operations there. Clearly, much of the R&D going into the world's new therapeutics is heading to China. AstraZeneca, Novartis, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline are among the leaders in the pharma world who are blueprinting some ambitious expansion plans. And smaller biotech companies are going in right alongside them, prompting one San Diego biotech executive to note that virtually every company of note in his area has someone designated to a regular commute.

"We intend to be part of a future in which the phrase 'discovered in China' is heard as often as 'made in China' is heard today," said Glaxo research chief Moncef Slaoui.

China isn't just a source of cheap research labor, though. The country buys $13 billion in drugs, and that figure should double in just three years, shooting to $200 billion in 2017. India is also experiencing big growth in drug sales, which hasn't been ignored by drug discoverers either. But with a cloud lingering over IP rights in the subcontinent, India is risking on missing out on a large amount of drug work that would otherwise have made its way there.