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

Aspen Pharmacare sees China eventually overtaking SA as its biggest market, as the company completes its transition to a global therapeutics business from an Africa-focused maker of generic drugs.

The business sells medicines in more than 150 countries and is looking for partners as it expands in China, the Middle East and the US.

The infant-milk formula market is just one area that represents a good opportunity in Asia’s most populous nation as the market consolidates, CEO Stephen Saad said on Thursday.

"Four years ago, Asia was less than 10% of total commercial pharma revenue, while China is now number three by sales and Asia is bigger than Australia," he said in an interview.

"China has every opportunity to get to number one," he added, declining to comment on how long it would take.

Revenue from therapeutic brands, which include anaesthetic and blood-clotting medicines, rose to 45% of first-half sales after the company said in September it would buy more rights to AstraZeneca’s anaesthetic medicines for $555m. It made similar purchases in 2016.

Saad said the company was generating enough cash for more deal making, particularly in emerging markets.

"There are about 2,000 brands in China and we think that’s going to go down to 500 as about three-quarters of them are not going to get registration," he said.

"We are going to focus on growing online and selling to mother-and-baby stores."

In January the company said it was reviewing its global nutritionals business, with a view to entering a strategic partnership or possible a sale.

Aspen shares rose 1.8% to close at R261.70 on the JSE on Thursday, valuing the company at R119.5bn.


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