China's Thirst for New Diabetes Drugs Threatens Bayer's Lead
Comment of the Day

November 21 2011

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

China's Thirst for New Diabetes Drugs Threatens Bayer's Lead

This article by Naomi Kresge for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:
There isn't a word for diabetes in traditional Chinese medicine, but Chengzhi Xia knows it when he sees it. And he says he's seeing much more of it these days.

Xia and other healers in affluent central Shanghai describe the disease by one of its symptoms, a raging thirst. Patients often seek relief from the side effects of modern drugs -- products sometimes outdated in the West.

"Western companies should have more innovative products to give Chinese patients more choices," Xia said in an interview in his cubicle at Lei Yun Shang Pharmacy, where apothecaries sift sharp-smelling medicinal herbs alongside modern pills.

He may soon get his wish. As diabetes rates soar in China, drugmakers including Merck & Co., Sanofi and Eli Lilly & Co. are trying to unseat Bayer AG and Novo Nordisk A/S as the biggest providers of diabetes medicines. At stake is a market that may triple to $2.1 billion in annual sales by 2019 from $700 million in 2009, says Yifi Liu, an analyst for Datamonitor in Shanghai.

"You should continue to expect double-digit growth in China's diabetes market for many years to come," Kare Schultz, chief operating officer of Novo Nordisk, said in a telephone interview. The Copenhagen-based drugmaker is the country's top seller of insulin, which diabetes patients lack to convert blood sugar into energy.

Beyond insulin, the pill to beat is a 17-year-old Bayer drug called Glucobay, little used in the West but dominant in China. Glucobay sales there surged 22 percent to 1.8 billion renminbi ($283.4 million) last year, according to Bayer. The medicine, now a generic, only garnered a fraction of that, or $9.7 million in revenue, in the U.S. in the first nine months of this year, according to data research firm IMS Health.

Eoin Treacy's view Diabetes is often described as an epidemic and is an unfortunate side effect of rising incomes and per capita calorie consumption. This is most noticeable among rapidly industrializing countries such as India and China and is multiplied by their large populations.

Bayer yields 3.36% and has been largely rangebound since late 2007. It retested the 2008/09 lows in October and rebounded impressively to recoup approximately half of its earlier decline. However, it will need to sustain a move above €50 to indicate a return to demand dominance beyond the short term.

Novo Nordisk, a European dividend aristocrat yielding 1.63%, lost momentum from March following a very impressive advance. It dropped below the 200-day MA in August and rallied back above it this month. The share will need to hold above the 550DKK area if the medium-term upside is to continue to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Sanofi, is also a European dividend aristocrat, yields 5.13%. The share failed to rally following the 2008 low and remains largely rangebound between €40 and €60. It is currently mid range and exhibiting a downward bias.

Merck yields 4.89% and has been ranging with a mild downward bias, between $30 and $40, since early 2010. It is currently testing the upper boundary but a sustained move above $37 would be required to indicate a return to demand dominance beyond the short term.

Eli Lilly was a dividend aristocrat but lost the designation for not increasing its payout last year. The share currently yields 5.36% and has been ranging within a base since 2009. It has held a progression of higher reaction lows which would need to be broken, with a sustained move below $33.50, to question medium-term scope for continued higher to lateral ranging.

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