Pharmaceutical chief executives are banking on genuinely innovative new drugs and opportunities in China to keep their businesses growing through these times of austerity.

That is one of the key points to come out of PricewaterhouseCoopers' annual global CEO survey which polled 1,258 heads in 60 countries. It includes the views of 82 pharma and life sciences CEOs in 29 countries.

Among the latter group, 43% believe "innovation is everything" and are focusing on the development of new products and services (compared with the overall average of 28%). Only 20% aim to increase their share of existing markets, "evidence, perhaps, of how demanding healthcare payers in the mature economies have become", the survey notes.

Interviewed by PwC, Bayer chief executive Marijn Dekkers argues that "the business case for innovation is increasing, but as I often say, the easy stuff has been done". He adds that "for innovations to be meaningfully better requires more insight into the fundamentals of science.”

PwC states that 15% of bosses are looking at new joint ventures or strategic alliances, but only 7% believe mergers and acquisitions represent a major growth opportunity. Some 16% of pharma and life scences CEOs are looking at new geographic markets and 37% see China as a top source of future growth. The USA, "once by far the industry’s most important market, now ties with Brazil in order of attractiveness."

The survey goes on to note that 51% of CEOs say it's become more difficult to hire suitably-qualified workers. It quotes Dr Dekkers as saying that "the ability to hire, develop, and retain talent in the developing economies has become a major point of competitive differentiation".

He states that "there are years when we hire more than 1,500 people in China. Where can we find them? How do we train them? They’re all very young and inexperienced. In terms of competitiveness, the capacity to recruit in developing economies wasn’t significant 10-20 years ago. But it is now.”

The poll also concludes that even though pharma and life sciences chiefs "are gloomy about the global picture, they are quite positive about the prospects for their own organisations". Only 12% believe the global economy will pick up this year, but 45% are very confident of being able to generate higher revenues over the next 12 months.

Another key finding is that the CEOs in the sector are worried about the risk of over- regulation. Some 70% are "somewhat or extremely concerned" about the possibility of tighter restrictions, compared with just 56% of the total sample.