The Japanese pharmaceutical market - the world’s second-largest - grew 17.2% by value in 2008 to total $68.6 billion, but will increase by just 4.8% on average each year to 2014, forecasts a new report.

However, considerably higher-than-average increases will be seen in sales of targeted therapies plus antineoplastics and immunomodulating agents, with annual growth for these products averaging 19.8% and 10.1% respectively over the forecast period, says the study from Business Insights.

In 2008, the top-selling therapeutic categories in Japan continued to be cardiovascular disorders (with as many as six products in the top 10), plus alimentary canal/metabolism and general anti-infectives, registering sales of $14.6 billion, $9.6 billion and $6.5 billion respectively, notes the study.

The top-selling product for the year was Takeda’s angiotensin-II inhibitor drug Blopress (candesartan celexetil) with sales totaling $1.1 billion, up 13.3% on 2007’s figure.

Looking at market developments in the last decade, the report notes that major factors for change have included significant regulatory developments and the recent string of high-profile acquisitions by a number of domestic drugmakers. With strong cash reserves and the recent dramatic increase in the value of the yen, particularly against the euro, this appetite for international acquisitions looks set to continue in the coming years, it forecasts.

At the same time, foreign-owned companies are now increasingly developing a presence in Japan, mostly in the fields of R&D and marketing, while multinationals have boosted their share of the domestic market - Pfizer, Roche, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) all now present among the top 10 companies. However, among such moves into Japan there have also been occasional reversals, such as the decisions by Pfizer and Merck & Co to shutter their research facilities there in 2006. Also, in a $1.2 billion deal in 2008, US biotechnology giant Amgen handed over the rights to 13 drugs to Takeda. But more recently, foreign multinationals are seeking to expand their presence in the market, mostly by retaining Japanese rights that formerly would have gone to domestic firms, says the report.

Significant recent market developments include the launch last summer of Somatropin BS – a recombinant form of the human growth hormone Genotropin – by Novartis’s generic division Sandoz. The first biosimilar to launch in Japan, Somatropin BS was initially approved there last June for the treatment of growth hormone deficiency in children, growth disturbance associated with Turner's syndrome and chronic renal insufficiency. Sandoz already markets this product as Omnitrope in the European Union (EU), the US and a number of other markets.

Other important developments included final approvals, granted last October, for GSK’s cervical cancer vaccine Cervarix, Wyeth/Pfizer’s pediatric pneumococcal conjugate vaccine Prevenar and Merck & Co’s Januvia (sitagliptin) for the treatment of type 2 diabetes – this latter product will be co-marketed by Ono as Glactiv in Japan, the report notes.