Novartis AG
A pharmacist counts prescription drugs inside a pharmacy (Photo: Reuters / Chris Wattie)

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis is expanding its presence in China with the submission of 50 new innovative drugs for regulatory approval. The submitted drugs are mainly focused on what the company thinks are largely untapped medical treatments that should become very profitable once the demand is met.

Novartis is banking on China's recent acceleration of drug approvals, which is part of the country's strategy of opening to foreign investors by lessening bureaucracy for different applications.

Chinese regulators have launched fast track approval programs for foreign firms, including a program for large pharmaceutical companies who want to enter the Chinese market.

Medications that are eligible to be part of the program include those with an urgent clinical demand in China and those that treat rare diseases.

China's regulatory reforms also include the shortening of timelines for clinical trial applications. This has resulted in the significantly faster production of new drugs by both domestic and foreign players in the country.

Novartis has chosen the types of medications it has submitted for approval based on the specific needs of Chinese patients. The firm's head of global drug development and its chief medical officer, John Tsai, revealed in an interview that the drugs that were submitted were mainly for the treatment of diseases such as respiratory ailments, tumors, eye conditions, and cardiovascular diseases.

One of the drugs that will be released to Mainland residents and medical facilities, once regulators approve its distribution, is an orally-taken medication for asthma. When compared to traditional asthma treatments, Novartis' product is touted as significantly more convenient for patients.

Tsai specifically mentioned the drug, stating that they already have an ongoing study for the drug with over 5,000 patients involved. The results of the study will apparently be released before the year ends. Novartis has so far received approval for 24 new drugs in China over the last two years.

Tsai stated that China is quickly becoming one of the fastest and most lucrative marketplaces for pharmaceutical firms. This is apparently evident in the number of applications that are received compared to other countries. According to market experts, the pharmaceutical market in China could reach as much as $170 billion by 2021.

Novartis had previously shown its commitment in its Chinese business when it established a research group consisting of 700 scientists in China back in 2006.

The research group mainly focused on developing treatments for common conditions seen in Asian patients. Some of the diseases that are prevalent in China and Asia include gastric cancer, liver cancer, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma.