Abbott Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer are among the first US drugmakers to sign up for a new public/private sector partnership in healthcare agreed between China and the US.

The Healthcare Partnership Program will be organized around US healthcare industry strengths and government capabilities to foster long-term cooperation with China in the areas of research, training, regulation and the adoption of an environment that will increase accessibility to healthcare services in China, said officials, as the new partnership was announced in Washington DC during the state visit of China’s president, Hu Jintao.

Initially, 12 US companies will participate in the initiative, plus six supporting organizations including the Alliance for Healthcare Competitiveness, the American Chamber of Commerce in China, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, the US-China Business Council, the US medical device manufacturers association AdvaMed and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

The Alliance for Healthcare Competitiveness notes that the Chinese government plans to have universal healthcare and equal access to public services for its 1.3 billion people by 2020, and that the nation’s annual expenditure on healthcare is expected to triple from 2008 to 2018. China is now among the top five pharmaceutical markets worldwide in terms of overall size, with sales forecast to grow at double-digit rates, and further market gains will be fed by rising per-capita drug expenditures, supported by strong economic growth, the Alliance adds.

Welcoming the Program, Chip Davis, executive vice president for advocacy at PhRMA, said it will provide “good opportunities to appropriately promote US exports as well as highlight the importance of the private sector and governments working collaboratively to improve health systems and patient access to life-saving and life-enhancing goods and services.”

“While many of the details are to be worked out, we believe the partnership will create new opportunities for interactions between the regulators in China and the United States. Such interactions and information-sharing help to improve efficiencies that can ensure products reach patients quickly and safely. PhRMA also welcomes the opportunity for a more open dialogue with healthcare stakeholders in China about how we can all support China's healthcare goals of ensuring safe, efficient, convenient and affordable healthcare for its citizens,” added Mr Davis.

AmCham-China’s chairman, Ted Dean, described the Program as “a milestone” which  “will strengthen the contribution of US companies to China’s healthcare reforms,” while US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said it “will draw its strength from US companies strategically working together to help China achieve its development goals that will open new export markets for US goods and services.”

Leocadia Zak, director of the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), added that the partnership will provide China with “an important private sector resource to draw from to help with key development issues, while also identifying for US companies projects that have been designated priority development projects by China.”