SCRIP Intelligence - Cracking the China conundrum & "Robo-reps"

3 July 2014 
Anju Ghangurde 

Think China, think Europe and deploy a mix of traditional and new digital channels to drive growth in  the world's second-largest healthcare market. And yes, tele-video detailing/remote detailing, or a  "Robo-rep" approach if you will, hold significant scope in China to provide an effective method to  reach healthcare professionals directly, with a clear high return on investment. 

Those were among the key takeaways at a recent conclave in Shanghai, Indegene PharmaFuture  2014, which saw among others Bayer Healthcare China managing director, Alok Kanti, and Novartis  China chief marketing officer, David Lennon, address the gathering. The event was organized by  Indegene, which offers a spectrum of marketing and analytics services to Big Pharma. 

While China's healthcare market has moved up the rankings from nine in 2005 to three in 2011 and  then to second position in 2013, displacing long-time number two Japan, the complexities of doing  business in China are not unknown. Managing compliance in the region has become a critical  component, more so in the backdrop of alleged bribery issues there. 

Experts at PharmaFuture suggested that companies should perhaps consider China akin to Europe.  As in the big five countries of the EU, where there is one central regulatory authority but requires  the application of different models to gain market access into and manage the regional differences  between each country, the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector in China will also need to learn to  manage differences between provinces as they experiment and try to find their own models that  work, the conclave heard. 

Next, compliance and governance are critical in new models for all firms doing business in China.  Experts underscored the need to factor in recent government regulations in their strategy to ensure  compliance. In December last year, China's National Health and Family Planning Commission  (NHFPC) issued a Notice on "Nine Prohibitions" to Strengthen Healthcare Industry Compliance – setting down anti-corruption requirements to be observed by hospitals and physicians. The notice  prohibits nine types of non-compliant activities and also lends clarity on issues such as sponsorships  and donations provided by drug and device firms to hospitals. 

"Companies end up paying huge fines due to non-compliance leading to serious legal implications.  Companies can reduce the risk by partnering with the right commercial experts who would help  messaging promotional aspects while aligning with compliance requirements," Indegene officials  told Scrip. 

Experts also highlighted the relevance of multi-channel marketing (MCM) – essentially integrated  marketing communication that deploys various levers to drive a point to a physician. While email has emerged as the most preferred among E-channels for drug information enquiry, conference/seminar  information, and product promotions in China, the conclave heard that most physicians still also  prefer traditional rep visits. 

Another reference point was the low sales contributions from new products that came in the last  five years for most large multinational firms. "A lot has to do with the long access change, but it also  reflect