Credit: Healthcare Asia

Innovative pharmaceutical firms trying to introduce specialised medications and uncommon therapies to Japan are locked in a Catch-22 between contradicting regulations made to address coexisting bureaucratic priorities in Tokyo.

Given Japan’s ageing population, encouraging the introduction of novel medical therapies is essential. However, ongoing cost-cutting is required due to worries about the rising expense of healthcare, which ultimately undermines such efforts.

Japan is currently facing a reoccurrence of the “drug lag” problem. That is, proven drugs are only becoming available to Japanese patients after repeated delays.

This issue, which had begun to improve in the early 2010s, has gotten worse once more in large part as a result of several programmes aiming to lower the cost of prescription medications.

The Japanese government establishes pricing at which it will pay medical facilities and pharmacies for their procurement of drugs as part of its national health insurance system. These prices have been reduced yearly in recent years, discouraging drugmakers from releasing novel drugs on the market and affecting patients’ access to the most recent, effective therapies.

The government has devised pricing mechanisms to encourage the release of products that are especially innovative or catered to a patient population that is underserved in order to solve this issue.

Japan remains the third-largest pharmaceutical market in the world, but since 2015, it has seen an ever-steeper decline in new drug launches compared to other markets, due mainly to its consecutive cost-cutting policies.

The pro-innovation and reward-focused policies to incentivize research and development spending and expedite approvals that helped Japan narrow the drug lag in the 2010s are losing effect. Japan is falling behind again due to downward pricing pressure measures that affect incentives for pharmaceutical companies to launch products in the country first or early.

In the end, Japanese patients are not getting access to new and innovative drugs that offer the potential to significantly improve the treatment of diseases. An honest reckoning to sort out the conflicting goals of government policy in this area would help maximize the quality of life in Japan’s aging society.


As Japan are declining in innovative drugs, other countries that are apart of the APAC have one of the fastest drug discovery innovation speeds in the world.

West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc., a US-based company that leads the world in creative approaches to injectable medication delivery, recently opened an advanced production facility in Jurong, Singapore. West has promised to invest more than $350 million worldwide in 2023, which includes this. In a direct interview with BioSpectrum Asia, Alagu Subramaniam, Senior Director, Sales and Commercial Operations, Asia Pacific, West Pharmaceutical Services, provides further information about this new facility.


With a history spanning more than 40 years, the Singapore Jurong facility has been crucial in meeting the demands of clients and patients both locally and regionally in the healthcare sector.

With the improvement, West is now able to produce cutting-edge, top-notch injectable drug containment products from conception to completion in a single facility, which will shorten the total lead time in manufacturing. This makes it possible for APAC to provide their clients in the area with a top-notch supply chain and to hasten the delivery of new medicines, life-saving medications, and solutions that improve the quality of patient life.

The Jurong plant is one of the five locations for West’s global high-value product (HVP) capacity development worldwide and the only one in Asia Pacific (APAC) under the advanced manufacturing value stream. APAC think they are in a unique position to help Singapore achieve its manufacturing goals because both the pharmaceutical and advanced manufacturing sectors are important to the government of Singapore’s “Manufacturing 2030” Plan.

APAC have made over $700 million in capital investments over the previous three years, the majority of which went towards increasing capacity at  the current facilities, including the Jurong complex.

Furthermore, they are planning to invest more than $350 million internationally in 2023 to make sure that the capacity and capabilities grow along with the demands of their clients.

Lastly, this investment and upgrade supports Singapore in achieving a complete supply chain manufacturing capability for future vaccine response.

Plans for Other Asian Countries

West has a strong presence in all of the major markets in APAC, including India, China, South Korea, and Australia. subsequently the 1990s, they have been providing services to the Indian and Chinese markets, and have subsequently increased their presence there. For instance, in 2014, they built a manufacturing plant in Sri City, and in 2019, they opened India’s first Digital Technology Centre (DTC). They have two production sites in Shanghai, Mainland China, where they develop talent and produce premium injectable medicine components.

This is also the strategy for South Korea, where APAC first established a presence in the 1980s, and expanded our footprint within the country in 2019. 

Their focus is to continuously enhance their manufacturing capabilities to benefit the wider region, while maintaining high quality and safety standards.

Future Plans for APAC

“We look at APAC as a growth engine for us with one of the fastest drug discovery innovation speeds in the world. It is a region that is dynamic and promising – with its top 50 biotech companies worth over $8.6 trillion. ” Says Alagu Subramaniam, Senior Director, Sales and Commercial Operations, Asia Pacific, West Pharmaceutical Services.

Sitting at the heart of Asia as the region’s business and manufacturing hub, Singapore plays an integral role in strengthening West’s footprint and manufacturing network in Asia Pacific. 

As mentioned earlier, their focus is to continuously enhance their manufacturing capabilities to benefit the wider region. They also remain focused on expanding their talent pool and supporting their workforce to upskill themselves as they invest more in the region.

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