Last year marked a hard 12 months for businesses, and Vietnamese-run pharma firms were not an exception, although the impacts on them have turned out to be less serious than in other sectors.
Faults in the global ingredient supply chain and lower purchasing power have prompted Vietnamese drugmakers to make changes to business plans to shelter from the storm and maintain growth.
Nguyen Vu Cuong, an analyst at brokerage and investment advisory firm FPT Securities, told VIR, “Some players in the pharma industry obtained improvements in operations in the last months of last year, while some others saw no growth, but no falls either. Improvements are mainly attributed to effective cuts in intermediary costs and the launch of new products and strategies.”
For instance, while focusing on the over-the-counter (OTC) market Traphaco also started to venture into the $3-billion beverage market last summer with a new product – herbal tea Traphaco Boganic, which was included in its revenue structure in the third quarter.
Le Trung Thanh, former general director of Pepsi Vietnam, said that in the local lucrative beverage market, players tend to create specific and unique products to gain an advantage. The market has many kinds of drinks, but not so many healthy ones.
“Healthy products are very popular in the US, the EU, Japan, and South Korea,” Thanh noted. “This is a courageous move from Traphaco because obviously drugs and beverages are not the same things.”
A new bold step into the beverage market illustrates the challenge Traphaco has to attain new successes amid growing competition. Despite being a leading brand in the local pharma industry, making up nearly 50 percent of the market share of liver-tonic products, for example, the group has not achieved better growth as it did in the past, despite having taken a number of major decisions.
Encouraging results came when Traphaco reported total revenues of over VND1.3 trillion ($56.52 million) and after-tax profit of VND141 billion ($6.13 million) in the first nine months of 2020, up 12 and 31 percent on the year, respectively – a strong performance in comparison with a fall of about 10 percent among other listed drugmakers.
Elsewhere, Hau Giang Pharmaceutical JSC (DHG), the biggest domestic publicly-traded drugmaker, has trended towards the ethical drugs channel (ETC), or the hospital channel, and increased capacity for exports. The company has restructured its product portfolio towards focusing on investment in high-quality drugs meeting JAPAN-GMP and PICS-GMP standards.
DHG decided to pour $40 million in a GMP factory in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, with the target to put it into operation in 2023. Also last year, DHG got the JAPAN-GMP certificate for its two assemblies. Drugs meeting JAPAN-GMP, PIC/S-GMP, EU-GMP, CGMP-USA certificates are among the prioritized drug tenders for the hospital channel.
With the move, DHG showed off its ambition to conquer the strict Japanese market and some ASEAN member countries where subsidiaries of Taisho Pharmaceutical Holdings have a presence. Taisho, one of the five biggest pharmaceuticals in Japan, is a major foreign shareholder of DHG, with a take of 50.78 percent.
Imexpharm Pharmaceutical JSC, Vietnam’s fourth-biggest pharma firm, has a similar focus on the ETC segment. The drugmaker has made investments to gain an EU-GMP certificate for its factories to gain advantages in drug tenders. During the past year, it also restructured its product portfolio, concentrating on EU-GMP drugs.
Notably, Imexpharm gained market authorization from Spain for its Cephalexin 500mg capsules produced at its EU-GMP factory located in the southern province of Binh Duong.
To serve the future strategy, a resolution from Imexpharm’s board of directors was issued on January 5 approving a loan of $8 million from the Asian Development Bank. At present, Imexpharm’s foreign ownership limit currently remains set at 49 percent, with Balestrand Ltd. (5.92 percent), and KWE Beteiligungen AG (14.26 percent) as foreign shareholders.
Like Traphaco, Imexpharm, and DHG, OPC Pharmaceutical JSC – one of the biggest domestic pharma firms – and others had to make adjustments in their business strategy during the last year. OPC also suffered from interruptions in the global ingredient supply chain, although it has growing areas to supply for itself.
At present, Vietnam’s pharmaceutical production relies much on imported ingredients which make up 80-90 percent of local demands, with which China and India account for over 80 percent.
OPC focuses on expanding functional food by investing in product assembly while increasing the production of alcohol-related products and others to satisfy growing demands due to the pandemic. Moreover, the company continued to strengthen the ETC channel as well as develop in the OTC market.
As noted in documents from OPC’s annual general shareholder meeting last June, some new businesses were added, including functional food, cosmetics, import and export of pharmaceuticals and ingredients, and automobile cargo transportation business.