Aspen Pharmacare CEO Stephen Saad. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Aspen Pharmacare CEO Stephen Saad. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Aspen Holdings was considering entry into more partnerships in China to build critical mass in the country, management said in a presentation last week.

The Durban-headquartered pharmaceutical group recently gained a foothold in China by taking over certain AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline product lines. China was now home to Aspen’s largest regional sales force, with 650 staff in the country. Aspen has "key" offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and had secured all of its necessary business licences, the company said.

"We are looking to bolster our product offering in China through developing a pipeline of products to launch and are already working on expanded offerings in both anaesthetics and in thrombosis," said Zihle Mgcokoca, Aspen’ investor relations manager.

"As we develop our presence in China, we will explore the prospect of partnerships which allow us to accelerate our growth and provide greater reach and critical mass."

In October, Aspen launched an infant-milk formula brand in the country, Alula, through a joint venture. China has the second-largest pharmaceutical sector and is the world’s biggest infant-milk formula market, said Mgcokoca. Aspen expected "significant growth opportunities" in these industries.

In 2016, regulations were introduced that require registration with the China Food and Drug Administration for imports and sales of infant milk formula products. The deadline for registration is January 2018 and Aspen said the rules were expected to reduce the number of brands in the country from more than 2,000 to about 600.

It was considering an application for a good supply practice licence in China so that it could import directly rather than trading through third parties.

Aspen CEO Stephen Saad said in September the abandonment of China’s one-child policy created opportunities for the pharmaceutical company, especially in products such as epidurals and anaesthetics as more people gave birth.

China "is a high-risk environment", he said. "But, we’ve been encouraged by our early progress there so far."

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