With Asia Medical Market Expert Ames Gross, Pacific Bridge Medical
Q1. Is cancer a big issue in China?
A. Cancer is the #1 cause of death in China. More than 3.5 million Chinese develop cancer every year – and cancer causes more than 2.5 million deaths annually. According to the WHO, China accounts for half of global stomach, esophageal and liver cancer cases. And, these numbers are skyrocketing every year.
Q2. What is causing cancer in China?
A. The simplest answer is “development.” As China develops economically and more people move to cities, lifestyles are becoming more sedentary and diets are unhealthier. More people are becoming overweight and obese. Consumption of alcohol is increasing. Environmental pollution is a huge driver of cancer in China. Smoking is widespread. Demographically, China is a rapidly aging society – and the elderly are much more susceptible to cancer. On a more positive note, the country’s economic development also means an expanding middle class – so, many more Chinese are able to afford higher quality medical care.
Q3. What is the Chinese government doing about it?
A. The Chinese government has, for the past 10 years, been spending a lot of money on improving the country’s healthcare. In the past 5 years, the government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on healthcare facilities, products, infrastructure and insurance coverage. Over the next 10 years, more than $500 billion more will be spent on healthcare. Furthermore, this government spending includes building up China’s cancer care sector and expanding insurance coverage for cancers. The government has promoted educational outreach programs that teach people (and rural doctors) about early cancer screening and diagnosis. Local governments have also started to work with Western facilities to promote cancer care. One example is the Shanghai government’s partnership with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center of Seattle to establish a center in Shanghai for breast cancer.
Q4. What cancer treatments are common in China?
A. In top tier cities, some cancer hospitals offer similar care to that found in the West. These hospitals are buying expensive, high-end cancer devices. At the same time, China has more than 200 cancer hospitals – and almost 1,500 radiation oncology centers (usually part of China’s many general hospitals). So aside from the top hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai that are catering to the elite, there are many other cancer care facilities in China buying cancer devices. And, these facilities are procuring more advanced equipment. Many provincial hospitals offer technology such as high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), particle and gamma knife surgery, interventional and gene therapies, brachytherapy, etc.
Q5. Is there a role in China for private cancer care facilities?
A. Increasingly, yes. The Chinese government has realized that private investment will be key to improving the country’s healthcare infrastructure and quality. There are several domestic medical service companies that are building private hospitals throughout China – including private cancer centers. For instance, Beijing-based Concord Medical Services has almost 150 cancer diagnosis and radiotherapy facilities around China. The government has also been relaxing foreign investment caps in hospital partnerships. A variety of U.S. cancer care facilities have established partnerships with Chinese care providers. Philadelphia’s Fox Chase Cancer Center has an agreement with Chang’an Hospital (Shaanxi Province) to develop the hospital’s oncology department. So the private cancer care market is relatively small, but definitely growing.
Q6. Any last thoughts?
A. The Chinese cancer device market is set to skyrocket over the next few decades, providing a great opportunity for Western cancer care companies. Cancer rates are increasing, Chinese are more able to afford higher quality treatment and the government is promoting private investment in the cancer care sector. Private cancer hospitals and joint venture facilities often buy advanced, high-quality Western diagnostic and treatment devices. Western companies should start developing market entry and expansion strategies now, to make sure they can capture a share of this growing and increasingly lucrative market.
Ames Gross is president and founder of Pacific Bridge Medical, a Bethesda, Md.-based consulting firm that helps medical companies doing business in the Asia market. A recognized national and international leader in the Asian medical markets, he founded Pacific Bridge Medical in 1988, which has helped hundreds of medical companies with business development and regulatory issues in Asia. For more information, visit www.pacificbridgemedical.com.