The next big trend in healthcare? Speciality medicine for Asian patients
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The next big trend in healthcare? Speciality medicine for Asian patients

The drug development pipeline traditionally begins in the west, then moves into the east. Western pharmaceutical companies typically develop drugs at home, get approval, then make them available in Asia afterwards. But with the continued population growth, urbanisation, and rise of the middle class in Asia, that looks to be changing. This year, the Asian healthcare market will expand by 11% to $517 billion. For big pharma’s biggest players, that’s a prize too great to ignore.

GlaxoSmithKline is one of the biggest healthcare players in Dominion’s Global Trends Managed Fund

graph 0810 healthcare

SOURCE: Yahoo Finance

Big players like AstraZeneca Plc and Roche Holding AG have drugs in their portfolios that deal with a particular lung cancer causing mutation that’s common in women from East Asia, and start-ups are focussing on peculiar cancers that are rare in the west, but common in Asia. Tech start-ups are even developing tests suited to discovering breast cancer in Asian women’s “denser breast tissue.”

The move to treat Asians specifically comes from two key facts: first, Asia’s booming economy and increasing focus on health makes it impossible to ignore. And second, different populations, with slightly different genetic makeups, often don’t respond to treatment in exactly the same way. When it comes to medicine, it is not the case that one size fits all. So far, this is most obvious in regards to cancer treatments, where a number of common types of tumour are very rare in the west.

Brigette Ma, a professor specialising in drug development at the University of Hong Kong, said: "The patients are here, the tumour samples are here, and also the basic know-how. By acknowledging diversity, not just in cultural and economic needs -- by acknowledging diversity in terms of cancer care -- we are getting the drugs to where they are needed."

As researchers continue to understand the differences between populations, and Asian economies continue to grow, expect this trend to continue!


Dominion holds a number of healthcare companies in its Global Trends Managed Fund that have interests in Asian-facing medicines.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author at the date of publication and not necessarily those of Dominion Fund Management Limited. The content of this article is not intended as investment advice and will not be updated after publication. Images, video, quotations from literature and any such material which may be subject to copyright is reproduced in whole or in part in this article on the basis of Fair use as applied to news reporting and journalistic comment on events.