China's Road to Tackle Autoimmune Diseases Globally

Healthcare Author: Mingxia Ren Editor: Mianmian Wang Oct 10, 2022 03:55 PM (GMT+8)

The market of autoimmune diseases medication is vast both in China and overseas and presents great opportunities. However, the number of Chinese players specializing in autoimmune diseases is limited. This article introduced the autoimmune diseases medication market in China and explained why Chinese players are limited then give some recommendations on what efforts Chinese companies can make to compete with western players.


Autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system mistakes part of the body, like joints or skin, and releases proteins called autoantibodies to attack healthy cells. Nearly 4% of the world’s population is affected by autoimmune disorders, the most common of which include type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriatic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and Graves’ disease. Autoimmune illnesses can result in organ failure and impose a significant, lifelong financial and social burden on sufferers.

While treatments cannot completely cure autoimmune illnesses, they can only reduce the overactive immune responses, thereby reducing inflammation. Traditional treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, pain-killing medication, immunosuppressant drugs, physical therapy, treatment for the deficiency, surgery and high dose immunosuppression. But the above treatments have limitations, and scientists are trying to find treatments with increased safety and efficiency. Targeted immunotherapy has revolutionized the management of autoimmune illnesses ever since selective protein treatments targeting TNF were initially licensed for rheumatoid arthritis in the 1990s. Representative targeted pathways for autoimmune diseases are tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukins (IL-12/IL-23, IL-17) and JAK.

According to the data, China has over 20 million patients suffering from autoimmune illnesses. Psoriatic, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are the diseases with the highest number of patients. Besides, the prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus is 30-70/100,000. The market for autoimmune disease medications in China is predicted to increase quickly due to the country's sizable patient population and the advancement of novel therapeutics for autoimmune disorders. According to the statistics from Frost & Sullivan, the biologics market for autoimmune diseases in China is projected to expand from USD 0.5 billion in 2019 to USD 3.8 billion by 2024. Biologics’ share of China’s autoimmune disease medication market is expected to increase from 22.7% in 2019 to 48.8% by 2024.

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The market for autoimmune diseases is huge, but the number of China-based players in this market is limited, especially those specializing in autoimmune diseases medication.

One reason is the lack of patient education. Many patients don't even know that they contract an autoimmune disease until long after they have been sick. The disparity of medical resources between urban and rural areas also worsens this situation. Patients in rural areas receive less information about autoimmune diseases than patients in urban areas. Moreover, as the medical equipment in rural hospitals is less developed and precise, sometimes doctors can't diagnose the exact disease, which leads to misdiagnosis. "Not only pharmaceutical companies, but also hospitals and doctors should contribute to improving the level of patient education in an objective and neutral way," Dr. Goh, Chief Medical Officer of Reistone Biopharma told EqualOcean.

Reistone Biopharma (Chinese: 瑞石生物), incubated by Jiangsu Hengrui Pharmaceuticals (Chinese: 恒瑞医药), is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on developing novel drugs for immune-inflammatory diseases with unmet medical needs. Reistone’s product pipelines including SHR0302, SHR1459, RS1805 and RS2102 are centered on autoimmune diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis, Atopic Dermatitis and Alopecia Areata and etc.

Another reason is that China's autoimmune disease medication market is less developed than that in western countries. Treatment for tumors has always been the focus for most of the innovative drug companies and the significance of developing autoimmune diseases drugs was neglected. In early times, there were few China-based innovative drug companies delving into R&D of autoimmune diseases. Therefore, those big international pharmaceutical companies with mature autoimmune diseases drugs could easily enter China's market and even dominate China's autoimmune disease market. Nowadays, although more and more China-based pharmaceutical companies are beginning to add innovative drugs for autoimmune diseases in their product pipelines, the number of companies specializing in this field is still insufficient.

China is on the way to tackling global autoimmune diseases with the help of companies like Reistone which is beginning to license-out their innovative drugs. Dr. Goh told EqualOcean, "For Chinese companies that want to go global, quality, talent and money are of great importance. First, they should have innovative drugs of good quality; secondly, high-level international talent is definitely required especially for international business collaboration. Lastly, enough financial support will serve as a boosting power to help companies achieve their globalization strategy."

The autoimmune disease medication market is vast and broad, but it also puts a high threshold for companies. But one thing is sure, innovation is and will always be the key factor for pharmaceutical companies to succeed. China-based pharmaceutical companies should and must develop more innovative drugs with Chinese originality to benefit domestic and overseas patients.

To compete with western players in this market, Chinese pharmaceutical companies should improve their R&D capacity and develop more wholly-owned innovative medicines for patients with autoimmune disorders. The government, hospitals and all relevant parties should also work together to improve patient education aiding in patients' better understanding of the disease.

“Failures are common in the research and development of innovative drugs for pharmaceutical companies. Investors should admit it and put more confidence in innovative companies. As a China-based company that specializes in treating autoimmune diseases, we are determined to develop first-in-class and best-in-class drugs with novelty of Chinese originality to benefit global autoimmune disease patients", Dr. Goh added.