In recent years, advances in new healthcare reform have boosted market demand from China pharmaceuticals industryand driven growth in the demand from pharmaceutical packaging industry. In 2014, the Chinese pharmaceutical packaging market reached RMB72 billion, up 10.6% from a year earlier.
As a traditional form of pharmaceutical packaging bottle, pharmaceutical glass bottle took up a large proportion of the Chinese pharmaceutical packaging market in initial development stage of the packaging market. However, affected by negative factors like the substitution of new packaging materials (plastics and aluminum foil) and continuous decline in purchase prices of packaging materials quoted by pharmaceutical companies due to reform in medical system, China pharmaceutical glass packaging industry has developed sluggishly, with its market share standing at estimated 45% or so for the time being.
Due to low barrier to entry, China’s pharmaceutical glass industry has been large but not strong as a whole, with low and medium-end products struggling with huge overcapacity and high-end products relying on imports. At present, developed countries around the world all use level I waterproof neutral borosilicate glass, while China still mostly adopts low borosilicate glass, soda-lime glass and almost domestically unique “semi-neutral borosilicate pharmaceutical glass” (its chemical stability cannot meet neutral requirements; the heavy metal content in glass is not defined clearly; dimensions are not accurate).
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The production of neutral borosilicate glass faces dual barriers of raw materials and tube-making technology, which have been still controlled by foreign companies so far, resulting in persistently high production costs and limited applications. In 2012, German Schott AG, a world well-known pharmaceutical glass company, together with Zhejiang Xinkang Pharmaceutical Glass Co., Ltd., announced to establish a joint venture that would engage in pharmaceutical packaging, an important sign marking localization of pharmaceutical glass. But, even for the joint venture, it has to buy glass tube produced by Schott abroad.
However, the defect of low borosilicate glass easily flaking causes safety risks to health of users, so it is imperative to promote neutral borosilicate glass. Market demand for neutral borosilicate glass pharmaceutical containers has been growing by more than 20% over the past two years. More and more pharmaceutical players started to use neutral borosilicate glass, especially for high value-added products. For example, Buchang Pharma employs neutral borosilicate glass packaging materials for all its Danhong Injections, and some innovative R&D-oriented pharmaceutical companies like Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co., Ltd. also adopt neutral borosilicate glass.
With years of development and competition, the Chinese pharmaceutical glass business market still finds a relatively low level of concentration, but competitively leading companies have emerged in some market segments, especially in prefilled syringe market.
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There are only five companies that have obtained assemblages for prefilled syringes in China, i.e., foreign-funded BD and Gerresheimer and domestic Shandong Weigao Group Medical Polymer, Shandong Zibo Minkang Pharmaceutical Packing Co., Ltd. and Shandong Pharmaceutical Glass Co., Ltd.
By virtue of first-mover advantage and developed marketing network, Shandong Weigao Group Medical Polymer sold about 85.85 million prefilled syringes in 2014, accounting for more than 50% of the market in China, followed by foreign brands such as BD and Gerresheimer with market share of about 25%, and Zibo Minkang Pharmaceutical and Shandong Pharmaceutical Glass (the remaining). In addition, Shandong Weigao Group Medical Polymer still plans to implement the 50-million prefilled syringes project, which is expected to further raise the company’s share in prefilled system market.
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