Lundbeck has unveiled plans to double its sales force in China with a specific emphasis on promoting the blockbuster Lexapro in the growing antidepressant market there.

The Danish drugmaker has revised its pact with partner Xian-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, changing the terms from a licence agreement for Lexapro (escitalopram), sold exclusively by the latter, to a co-promotion deal. Both firms say they will "invest substantially in more joint sales and marketing efforts" for the antidepressant in China.

Specifically Lundbeck plans to double its current sales organisation in the country and the new joint sales efforts behind Lexapro are to be "further expanded in the coming years". At present, the Copenhagen-headquartered group  has around 50 reps in China which promote the Alzheimer's drug Ebixa (memantine) and the field force is also expected to initiate marketing of Azilect (rasagiline), for Parkinson’s disease, which is pending approval, in a couple of years.

Ole Chrintz, head of international markets at Lundbeck, said the pharmaceutical sector in China, and CNS products in particular, "is undergoing a rapid development and represents a substantial commercial opportunity." In 2009, the Chinese antidepressant market was worth about 1 billion Danish kroner (some $178 million) according to IMS, and has been experiencing more than 20% annual growth rates in the past years.

The most widely-used antidepressants in China by the end of last year were GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil/Seroxat (paroxetine) with a value market share of 18%, followed by Pfizer's Zoloft (sertraline; 10%) and Eli Lilly's Prozac (fluoxetine; also 10%). Lundbeck's older drug Cipramil (citalopram), also sold by Xian-Janssen, and Lexapro had market shares of 6.5% and 3.0% respectively.