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Shire sees opportunity in Asia, aims to double revenue by 2020

[SINGAPORE] Shire, a specialist in rare diseases, aims to double Asian sales by 2020, as it targets markets including China, where it hopes to put its haemophilia drugs on a reimbursement list being updated this year for the first time since 2009.

Shire, which completed the US$32 billion takeover of rival drugmaker Baxalta in June, currently makes more than two-thirds of its sales in the United States. Asia Pacific, excluding India, represents just 5 per cent of sales.

Yet Peter Fang, newly appointed head of Asia Pacific, said low diagnosis and treatment rates for rare illnesses left plenty of room for growth. Asia is already the fastest growing region for the group after the United States.

"There could be 100 million people affected - that's bigger than Germany," Mr Fang said, referring not only to patients but to their wider communities.

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Shire estimates there may be 200,000 people suffering from bleeding illness haemophilia in the region as defined by the group, which excludes India and Japan, but only 26,000 are diagnosed. Fewer still are likely to be treated.

For rarer illnesses like Fabry Disease, an inherited disease that creates pain and burning in the hands and feet, there may be 40,000 sufferers in the region, but only 2,000 are diagnosed.

Shire, which made US$164 million of sales in Asia in the third quarter of this year, aims to double its annual sales in the region by 2020, when the company aims to hit global revenues of US$20 billion, up from over US$12 billion in 2015.

Key to the push is China, where Shire hopes to get its haemophilia treatments on China's main National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) in the current update process, which began in late September.

Patients now have only limited access, which means local treatments are attempted first - or they must pay thousands of dollars for treatment, monthly.

Drugs that are selected by central government agencies for the NRDL - currently just over 2,000 traditional medicine and Western products - are covered by national health insurance, available to nearly all Chinese. "This is a rare opening of the NRDL. It is a window of opportunity," Fang said, adding the company is also tackling improved diagnosis in China.

He declined to comment on pricing, where he said the company implemented a 'responsible' policy.

Shire is separately working with doctors and patient groups in China to get an officially recognised definition for rare diseases. Globally, there are 7,000 of these illnesses - but the vast majority do not have recognised treatments.