As mentioned in an earlier post the expiry of several drug patents in the near future is one of the biggest challenges the Japanese pharma industry is facing now. Although at first the impact seems large, I am wondering whether actually end users will switch for generic brands. In the last nine years I have very seldom experienced Japanese actually focusing on self medication first, instead of going to see a doctor. Most likely in case of any sickness or uneasiness, Japanese tend to consult their doctor at a clinique or hospital. The selection of the treatment is then done by the doctor, plus next the pharmacy nearby provides the drugs. So either the doctor recommends a generic brand, which I am doubtful whether it will actually happen, or then the patient is requesting a generic brand. Due to cultural reasons, I see it as unlikely that a patient would demand something different from the prescribed drug. Even with the provided card from the health insurance that state “prefer to receive generic drugs” the patient will most likely just go with the flow. Furthermore with the usual health insurance solely 30% has to be paid out of the own pocket, the need to switch brands is unlikely.
Still according to Tsuru san from The Asahi Shimbun help is on the way for the Japanese pharma industry. Japan has established for the first time an intellectual property fund for life science. The goal is to accelerate research now handcuffed by patents in cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, stem cells and biomarkers. The Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, who is jointly operated by the public and private sectors, will invest up to JPY 1 billion in the fund. According to the newspaper article the purpose of the fund is to buy up unused patents at universities and public research institutes, group them together as packages, and give the licenses to use them to domestic and foreign companies, so they can develop new medicines and treatments. Presently universities are the main target, because they use only an estimated 20 percent of their own patents. In many cases, the universities have not acquired related patents needed to deepen their research, resulting in wasted potential. The fund plans to buy over the next three years as many of the estimated 2,000 unused but promising patents kept at universities.
Officially advanced medical technologies are considered a strong point of Japan and make up one of the seven science and technology pillars in the government’s economic growth strategy. Personally I welcome all these actions for the Japanese pharma industry to bring back drive in the local economy. At the same time I am curious whether all the concern about the profitability of the Japanese pharma is necessary. I truly doubt that much of a shift to generic brands will occur, especially now with the increased commercial activities of the pharma industry on TV and newspapers.
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