AstraZeneca plans to better employ artificial intelligence, robots and digital applications to help change disease management in China and transition the drugmaker’s 25-year-old operations in the country toward that of a broader provider of healthcare services, CEO Pascal Soriot told Reuters in an interview.
Those products could include smarter cancer diagnostics, connected diabetes kits and using AI to improve the transport of patients with chest pain, the report said. While those ventures may not directly raise the company’s drug sales by themselves, it will give AstraZeneca a larger footprint in the Chinese market.
“Down the line we benefit, our products benefit, because we have better relationships with doctors and hospital managers and also because we diagnose more patients and they get better treated,” Soriot told Reuters at the World Internet of Things Exposition in Wuxi, China.
That’s not to say that AstraZeneca isn’t doing well in the country, but the opposite: the company has doubled its sales since 2012 and now brings in 18% of its revenue from China, according to the report. It also began marketing its lung cancer therapy Tagrisso there early last year, which some analysts believe will help push the drug’s global sales to well above $5 billion over the next five years.
In addition, AstraZeneca signed two deals earlier this year with Chinese internet conglomerates Alibaba and Tencent. A partnership with Alibaba’s Ali Health will help develop smart health services covering patient education, chronic disease prevention and AI-assisted screening and diagnosis, while the company’s work with Tencent is focused on using big data to combat online sales of counterfeit drugs.
In 2017, AstraZeneca’s drug sales in the country grew 30% at a constant exchange rate for the fourth quarter and 15% for the full year, amounting to nearly $3 billion, compared to 16% and 7% decreases in the U.S. and Europe, respectively.
And before the end of this year, the company expects China to be the first to approve its anemia drug roxadustat, co-developed with FibroGen, which is currently under priority review.
Soriot told Reuters that he believes AstraZeneca’s business can keep growing in the country, though more likely at a slower annual pace closer to 15%, compared to the 33% seen in the first half of this year.