China represents a vast, largely untapped market for prescription ED medications.
China is in many ways a very conservative country, especially when it comes to matters of sex and sexual dysfunction. This characteristic of the Chinese people helps to explain why impotence drugs that were embraced enthusiastically almost everywhere else in the world were much slower to catch on in China.
In sprawling rural areas of the country, the vast majority of the people continue to rely on the herbal remedies that are the mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine. But the march of progress in China is beginning to bring change to even the most remote corners of the country.
Drug Grew in Popularity
Over time, Chinese men — particularly middle-class urban dwellers — have slowly but surely grown more enthusiastic about these drugs and the relief they offer to those who suffer from erection problems. In 2013, the last full year in which Pfizer’s patent for Viagra was still in force in China, sales of the little blue pill totaled $145 million. This represented a bit less than 8 percent of Viagra’s total sales around the world.
However, with a population of just under 1.4 billion in 2013, China accounted for more than 19 percent of the world’s total population of 7.3 billion. And Chinese health authorities estimate that more than 127 million of its male inhabitants suffer from erection problems. Furthermore, they report that only 10 percent of these men are believed to seek treatment for their symptoms of impotence.
Chinese Market Underserved
In short, despite the inroads made by Viagra and the other brand-name impotence drugs, including Cialis and Levitra, China remains a significantly underserved market when it comes to medications for the treatment of erection problems.
With its vast market and a growing acceptance of drugs designed to treat impotence, China is likely to be the focus of considerable attention among pharmaceutical industry analysts for years to come.
In the wake of the expiration of Pfizer’s Chinese patent for Viagra, which occurred in May 2014, one of China’s pharmaceutical companies has introduced a generic version of the drug. Called Jinge, which means ¨golden dagger¨ in Chinese, the drug was developed by Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical Company. It is but one of the roughly 40 impotence products that the company has in the pipeline.
New Herbal Remedy
To appeal to those Chinese men who still put their trust primarily in the herbal remedies typical of traditional Chinese medicine, the drugmaker in October 2014 also introduced an herbal product that will be sold under the name Tiema, Chinese for ¨iron horse.¨ Ah, the symbolism.
Certain to shake up the competition in China’s market for impotence drugs that fall within the category of PDE5 inhibitors is the decision by Guangzhou Baiyunshan to market Jinge at roughly half the price that Pfizer charged for Viagra. And although Jinge is the first generic version of Viagra to win approval from China’s National Food and Drugs Administration Bureau, it certainly won’t be the last.
Other Drugmakers Line Up
According to mid-October 2014 reports from Sichuan Hairong Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., a number of other companies already have submitted applications to manufacture and market their generic versions of Viagra. These companies include Yunnan Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., Hebei Changshan Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., Jiangsu Lianhuan Pharmaceutical Company, Chengdu Di’ao Group, Sichuan Yuanji Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., Zhuhai Biochemical Pharmaceutical Company Ltd., Beijing Zhongtian Kangda Medical Company Ltd., and Guangdong Biochemical Pharmaceutical Engineering Technology Development Center.
Still other drugmakers are likely to follow suit in the months and years ahead. While Guangzhou Baiyunshan is pricing its Jinge generic at about half what Pfizer was charging for Viagra before its patent expired, increased downward pressure on prices can be expected as more competing generics hit the market. The end-result undoubtedly will be still lower prices for impotence drugs.
Other Brand-Name Competitors
As previously noted, Viagra is not the only brand-name impotence drug competing in the Chinese market. Also available to Chinese men with erection problems are Cialis, which had 2013 sales of $50 million in China, and Levitra with 2013 Chinese sales of $13 million. As the generic competition heats up, both Cialis and Levitra are sure to come under price pressure that almost certainly will force them to cut prices in order to remain competitive.
Although it’s not really possible to accurately assess all the factors that influence impotence drug buying decisions among Chinese consumers, it seems fairly certain that the drugs’ steep prices up until recently have helped to restrain sales. The arrival of government-approved generic competition and the lower prices that are sure to follow should help to expand the overall market for impotence drugs significantly.
Market Sure to Grow
Lower prices and home-produced products should encourage more of the estimated 127 million Chinese men with erection problems to seek treatment. As the market grows, the competition — both home-grown and international — to serve it can be expected to grow as well.
Although its 2013 sales of $145 million are a pretty good indication that Chinese men were warming to Viagra, it had trouble gaining a foothold in the Chinese market at first. At the 1999 approval review meeting for Viagra, Chinese sex therapists said they feared sales of the drug in China would cause an increase in sexual violence.
In 2000 the Chinese government gave its official approval for sales of Viagra after medical researchers from Peking University reported that Viagra had chalked up an impressive 80 percent success rate in clinical trials. Despite government approval, sales of the Pfizer drug were very slow to grow.
TV Lectures Help Push Drug
Helping to pave the way for Chinese acceptance of this new treatment for erection problems was a government-sponsored campaign in which respected Chinese medical professionals explained how the drug worked in a two-year series of TV lectures.
Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra are all members of the family of drugs known as PDE5 inhibitors. The same is true of the generic formulations of sildenafil citrate — Viagra’s active ingredient — that will be coming to the Chinese market in the future.
While these drugs differ slightly in their chemical composition, they all work in much the same way. They temporarily optimize blood flow to the penis by disabling an enzyme known as phosphodiesterase-5. Without intervention from these drugs, the PDE5 enzyme can compromise blood flow to the penis, particularly in men whose circulatory systems have suffered damage from atherosclerosis or other physical ailments.
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Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.
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