China to consolidate drug market, promote traditional medicines

China plans to consolidate its huge and fragmented drug market and will support a greater role for traditional Chinese medicines (TCM), the central government said in a statement on Sunday following a meeting of the State Council.

China will also strengthen safety controls and traceability of domestic drugs, the statement said, part of an ambitious programme of healthcare reforms to improve home-made medicines and reduce reliance on generic and more innovative drugs from overseas.

"Accelerating the development of our domestic drug industry will better serve our people's healthcare needs, help build a healthier China and unleash economic growth potential," the statement posted on the central government website said.

China's near 1.4 billion potential patients are a major lure for drug firms targeting growth driven by rising incomes and a fast-ageing population. Beijing is keen, however, for local firms to take a larger slice of a healthcare bill set to hit 1.3 trillion by 2020.

The statement said China would push to consolidate the fragmented domestic sector: "We will support pharmaceutical mergers and acquisitions and foster industry leaders in order to solve the 'scattered' nature of the market," it added.

Traditional Chinese remedies, used to treat ailments from colds to cancers, will also play a greater role, the statement said.

The TCM market, with expensive natural ingredients ranging from deer antler to ginseng, is set to hit $40 billion by the end of the decade.

"We will raise investment and policy support for TCM," the statement said, adding the government would give greater support to research and development in the area as well as helping push these remedies overseas.