The Impact of the Evolving Landscape of the Chinese Biopharmaceutical Industry on Global Medical Communication

Global medical communication and journal publications for Chinese physiciansThe Chinese regulatory landscape and the investment environment in China are rapidly changing. The changes are reshaping the Chinese pharmaceutical industry, and are affecting global drug development as well as global medical communication.

In June 2017, the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) officially joined ICH as a participating member. The movement marks the CFDA’s continued pursuit of modernizing its regulatory policies. It also signals the agency’s ambition of playing a greater role in the global pharmaceutical industry.

Yet some multinational pharmaceutical companies including GSK and Eli Lilly are choosing to either close or downsize their Chinese R&D centers, the brand-new facilities that they built just a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Chinese investors are increasingly interested in investing in biopharmaceutical startups and innovative new biopharmaceutical products. The government’s support for new drug development and the investors’ enthusiasm are fueling the growth of the whole industry. Chinese pharmaceutical companies big and small are trying hard to capitalize the central and local governments’ unprecedented support to develop their own new drugs. And they are eying the global pharmaceutical markets.

The evolving landscape of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry is affecting domestic as well as foreign pharmaceutical companies’ strategies for drug development, drug marketing, and global medical communication.

Here are my observations and predications regarding the impact on global medical communication.

Impact on outsourcing

Even though companies like GSK have decided to reduce their R&D investment in China, they are not abandoning the Chinese market. Their decisions of closing or downsizing R&D centers in China most likely is just a change of strategy to reduce cost and to increase their return on investment.

News releases and publications in China indicate that many global pharmaceutical companies are looking for opportunities to work with local CROs that have extensive drug development (especially early stages) expertise. In addition to early-stage testing and some manufacturing jobs, certain types of medical communications, particularly those targeting Chinese audiences, will be handed to the local CROs as well.

Impact on regulatory medical writing

With the CFDA officially joining the ICH, filing submission documents to Chinese drug regulatory agencies in theory will gradually become easier for global pharmaceutical companies. But regulatory medical writing may experience new changes. While a large portion of the CTD package can be written in English, certain content, if not all, may need to be translated into Chinese before being submitted to the CFDA.

Impact on non-regulatory global medical communication

As the Chinese government continues to revise its policies on how medical information should be communicated to Chinese doctors, non-regulatory medical communication will evolve too. In the future, medical communications will likely become more of a science rather than a masked marketing endeavor.

While many Chinese doctors at prestigious hospitals and research institutions in large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai can communicate effectively in English, many doctors in smaller cities still have difficulty communicating well in English and prefer read and learn in Chinese. Pharmaceutical companies and global medical communications agencies planning to reach a big audience in China may want to consider developing educational programs in both English and Chinese.

Here are a couple examples.

When planning medical publications, multinational pharmaceutical companies and global medical communications agencies may want to consider publishing in both English and Chinese journals. If this option is not feasible, it might be worthwhile to first publish in high-impact English journals, and then consider translating the publications into Chinese.

When organizing scientific symposiums and medical advisory board meetings, the current trend is preparing slides in English, conducting meetings in Chinese, and writing final reports in English. The trend will likely continue in the future.

Overall, I believe that the changes in the Chinese pharmaceutical industry will provide more opportunities for medical communications professionals. Bilingual medical writers who can write effectively in both English and Chinese will become valuable players in the field of global medical communications.

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