Korean offshoots of Japanese pharmaceutical companies are worrying that the boycott of Japanese drugs, sparked by Tokyo’s removal of Korea from the list of trusted trading partners, could spread further to prescription drugs.
On the internet, some pharmacist groups shared the list of Japanese over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to encourage the boycott. They recently uploaded the list of Japanese prescription drugs as well, signaling that more Koreans could refuse to use Japanese medicines.
Japanese drugmakers have not paid much attention to the boycott so far because their revenues came mostly from prescription drugs, rather than OCT drugs. However, the companies are on edge now, as the hostile sentiment could erode the sales of prescription drugs, too.
Outpatient prescriptions of drugs by the eight Japanese pharmaceutical firms operating in Korea totaled 750 billion won ($617.9 million) in 2018, according to U-BIST data, analyzed by Korea Biomedical Review. As cancer-fighting injections and anticancer drugs are not included in outpatient prescriptions, the combined revenues of the eight drugmakers’ prescription drugs could be larger.
Among the eight companies, Astellas Pharma had the largest sales of outpatient prescription drugs in 2018.
Among Astellas’ prescription drugs sold in Korea, those with more than 10 billion won annual sales include Vesicare (14.3 billion won), Betmiga (50.1 billion won), Xtandi (17.6 billion won), Prograf (21.1 billion won), and Harnal-D (69.2 billion won). The company’s outpatient prescription drugs sold 194.5 billion won in total in Korea last year.
The No. 2 position went to Daiichi Sankyo Korea. Outpatient prescription drugs that sell over 10 billion won a year in Korea include Lixiana (34 billion won), Sevikar HCT (46.7 billion won), Mevalotin (12.5 billion won), Olmetec (21.6 billion won), Olmetec Plus (10.2 billion won), and Olosta (12.7 billion won). In total, outpatient prescription drugs sold 180.3 billion won last year.
Takeda Pharmaceuticals Korea ranked third, recording 141.2 billion won in outpatient prescription drug sales last year. Those with over 10 billion won sales include Nesina (32.4 billion won), Dexilant DR (15.2 billion won), Lanston (36.9 billion won), Actos (22.5 billion won), Evista (10 billion won), and Pantoloc (14.3 billion won).
Eisai Korea came at fourth place with 99.7 billion won outpatient prescription drug sales last year. Its representative dementia treatment Aricept alone sold nearly 70 billion won, and anti-ulcer drug Pariet, 12.7 billion won.
Korea Otsuka Pharmaceutical ranked fifth with 63.5 billion won outpatient prescription drug sales. The company’s medicines selling over 10 billion won a year include Mucosta (16 billion won), Abilify (17.2 billion won), and Pletal (29 billion won).
Santen Pharmaceutical, specializing in ophthalmic products, came next with 58.5 billion won in outpatient prescription drug sales. The company's prescription medicines with over 10 billion won sales include Cosopt (23.6 billion won) and Taflotan (11.1 billion won).
Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Korea and Kyowa Hakko Kirin Korea posted less than 10 billion won in outpatient prescription drug sales, respectively, last year.
Besides the eight companies, Ono Pharma Korea sells immunotherapy Opdivo, jointly with Bristol-Myers Squibb. Ono Pharma Korea sells immunotherapies Opdivo and Yervoy, and acute pancreatitis treatment Foy Injection. According to IQVIA, Opdivo sold 62 billion won in Korea from April 2018 to March 2019.
Despite the boycott, the consensus of the medical community is that prescription drugs should not be a part of the boycott as they directly affect the health and life of patients.
“In times of war, patients were protected. Prescription drugs are different from products in other industries,” said an official at the health authorities.
An official at the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said the government could not disclose the list of drug raw materials imported from Japan unless they have a safety issue.
“As prescription drugs directly affect patient’s health, disclosing them will rather hurt people’s rights to health,” the official added.