Kantar Health Blog

Taiwan – the ideal test-bed for Asian product launches

by Questa Lin | Aug 2, 2012
Questa Lin

Since our government declared in 2009 that the pharmaceutical & biotechnology sector was key to our growth, drug companies looking to expand their portfolios out to Asian markets have increasingly chosen Taiwan as the first country in which to launch. This is despite the fact that our country has one of the lowest rates of growth in Asia.

So what is it that makes Taiwan attractive to western pharma companies?

The fact that diagnosis and treatment is covered for 99% of our population by compulsory National Health Insurance is an obvious plus, as is the fact that it is a mature, stable market. Cancer screening programmes are offered free of charge  and there are opportunities  for drug companies to help the government plan and evaluate further cancer and liver disease control, education and prevention programmes.

There has also been a drive to establish Taiwan as a centre of excellence for clinical studies into common Asian diseases and the infrastructure for clinical trials has subsequently been improved tremendously in the last few years. This, added to our geographical proximity to China and our general experience/prowess in science, technology and manufacturing means that many Taiwan-based enterprises have been developing collaborations with Chinese companies for several years now. However, the recently signed (June 2011) “Cross-Strait Cooperation Agreement on Medicine and Public Health Affairs” between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments has gone one step further, stating that is a product is deemed suitable for launch in Taiwan, it can also be launched into the Chinese market without local trials or going through the usual difficult market access processes.

Launches for therapies relating to infectious diseases like Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B(and  related cancers like Hepatocellular Carcinoma) are particularly popular in Taiwan, This is because these diseases are particularly prevalent in Asia whereas they are rarely found in the western world – for example, 75% of the 350M Hepatitis B virus carriers in the world are based in Asia Pacific, as are half of the 170K Hepatitis C carriers.  Having developed a mass vaccination program against Hepatitis B in the 1980s, Taiwan is also a great test bed for further vaccination and anti-viral treatment for the wider Asian market.

The government has also sponsored a number of initiatives designed to support pharmaceutical companies, such as the Supra Integration and Incubation Centre (Si2C) which provides support for developing biologic drugs, the building of a new protein-injection factory and biotechnology research investment programmes such as the “Diamond Action Plan for Biotech Takeoff”, which aims to more than double our annual biotech output by next year.

Another key factor is that in 2008 our slow market access processes were reformed, with a new Health Technology Assessment (HTA) component replacing the old product registration, reimbursement and hospital-based tender system. This has resulted in rapid registration for certain classes of drugs to treat life-threatening diseases such as oncology and Hepatitis B.

However, there are still technical and regulatory hurdles that prevent fast market entry for some new drugs that have been approved in other industrialized countries.

Taiwan has run up a large healthcare deficit and has therefore implemented cost containment measures for new products that have had downward pressures on pharmaceutical prices. So pharmaceutical companies need to make their drug costs especially competitive to get drugs onto the market and keep them there. It’s also important to have strong clinical data to keep products on the market after launch.

Whether you are dealing with a product launch or re-launch, understanding the cross-cultural challenges and differences that are rife in Asian countries, e.g. ‘saving face’/showing consensus will always be the main challenge for western countries trying to achieve success in Taiwan. There is no point in trying to implement western focussed campaigns and educational programmes as they simply won’t work. Culturally appropriate evidence based research can help you capitalize on the opportunity that having a Taiwanese portfolio can offer by ensuring that you deliver appropriate products and services to tight timelines and at highly competitive costs.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you launch your product in Taiwan or in other emerging markets, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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