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China

As Viagra Patent Expires, Chinese Company Creates New ED Generic

In Shenzhen
In Shenzhen
Luo Fengyao

BEIJING — After a development period of more than 10 years, and with final approval from the China Food and Drug Administration, Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical Co. has just launched a generic erectile dysfunction drug based on Viagra, to be sold at half the price.

At the press conference for the launch of "Jinge" (literally meaning "gold dagger"), Baiyunshan deputy director Wang Wenchu couldn't conceal his excitement when attractive young men and women appeared on the stage waving the pills at the audience. He had been waiting for this moment for 11 years.

The patent for Viagra, developed by the American company Pfizer, expired in China on May 12. Not only has it brought in over $10 billion globally for Pfizer over the past 11 years, it has also become the most iconic erectile dysfuntion drug in China.

With the country's repressive sex culture, it took a lot of effort for Viagra to gain entry to China a dozen years ago. In 1999, at Viagra's approval review meeting, numerous sexologists worried aloud that the drug would cause a rise in sexual assaults.

But doctors at Peking University found the drug effective in more than 80% of clinical trial cases and finally convinced people that it would not only promote harmonious marital relations but also bring social stability. Eventually, sale of the drug was approved in 2000.

But because of conservative attitudes, sales were slow to gain a foothold. "To promote the medicine and to help with Chinese men's health, we had to give weekly lectures for two consecutive years on television," recalls Dr. Guo Yinglu, who worked at the First People's Hospital of Peking University.

A widely cited anecdote is that Pfizer dispatched well-trained — and beautiful — women to approach potential clients in pharmacies. "I know you are normal, sir," they would say, before going on to promote the drug. The tactic not only worked well but gave confidence to shy Chinese men.

Acessible all over

But it wasn't until 2004, when China's State Food and Drug Administration allowed such drugs to be sold over the counter, that Viagra become a huge success in China. Bayer and Eli Lilly soon followed by respectively introducing Levitra and Cialis, two other drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction.

Chinese medical care services portal Menet says Viagra sales in China were around 890 million yuan ($145 million) in 2013 compared to 310 million ($50 million) for Cialis and 80 million ($13 million) for Levitra.

As the China Statistical Yearbook 2013 shows, China has 127 million men with erectile dysfunction, but only a tenth of these patients seek medical care for it. "It's a huge market with a tremendous potential," Zhang Buyong says. "With every 10% of patient growth, it will mean hundreds of million yuan of market growth."

Guangzhou Baiyunshan Pharmaceutical's research department is currently working on developing a series of over-40 drugs and health food products, all aimed at curing erectile dysfunction. Last month, the Chinese company introduced a herbal product marketed as "Tiema," or "Iron Horse," which is sold as a complementary health food. Insiders predict that the company, ranked 219th among China's top 500 enterprises, will launch several similar products in the near future to quickly seize a place in the market.

The company achieved an annual turnover of 54.5 billion ($8.9 billion) last year, which is estimated to grow to 65 billion ($10.6 billion) this year. By creating an erectile dysfunction product line, its ambition is to achieve a 100 billion yuan ($16.3 billion) turnover within the next three years. It has a strong network of hospitals and pharmacies as sales channels.

Among the company's advantages is the price of Jinge. As Wang Wenchu says, "our price for the same dose will be half of that of Viagra."

As many as 24 Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturers are applying to market generics of Viagra. Meanwhile, the patents of Levitra and Cialis will expire in 2018 and 2020, respectively. With a potential $100 billion market share, the three foreign pharmaceutical companies that have so far monopolized the market will have to gear up for a dogfight with Chinese companies.

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