China's Innovative Turn and the Changing Pharmaceutical Landscape

29 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2019 Last revised: 3 Sep 2020

See all articles by Peter K. Yu

Peter K. Yu

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: August 15, 2019


For more than a decade, China has been the world's leading supplier of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Today, it is not only the world's second largest pharmaceutical market, behind only the United States, but it also produces about four percent of the world's new pharmaceutical products. Despite these impressive accomplishments, China does not have internationally recognized pharmaceutical brands that are comparable to those found in Europe or the United States, such as Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi. Nor does China rival India in its status as the "pharmacy of the world," providing generic drugs to needy countries from around the world, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since the mid-2000s, China has taken an innovative turn that has serious ramifications for the global pharmaceutical landscape and future developments at the intersection of intellectual property and public health. To be sure, many policymakers and commentators still focus unduly on the problems in the Chinese intellectual property system. Notable examples from the past few years included the Trump administration's Section 301 reports and the United States' second complaint against China for violating the WTO TRIPS Agreement. Nevertheless, it is time that policymakers and commentators paid greater attention to the changing Chinese pharmaceutical landscape and its many ramifications.

Written for the "Changing Regulation of Pharmaceuticals: Pricing, Intellectual Property, Trade and Ethics" Symposium, this article begins by recounting China's innovative turn, tracing the developments back to the mid-2000s when Chinese leaders began to make a major policy push toward the development of independent innovation. It then examines the changing pharmaceutical landscape in China, drawing illustrations from the recently proposed amendments to Chinese patent law and pharmaceutical regulations. The article concludes by exploring the ramifications of China's increasing assertiveness in the pharmaceutical arena, at both the domestic and global levels. Specifically, the discussion highlights three sets of ramifications: the changing discourse on intellectual property developments in China, the internal challenges that confront the country at this time of policy transition, and the global complications that will affect the future development of the international trading and intellectual property systems.

Suggested Citation

Yu, Peter K., China's Innovative Turn and the Changing Pharmaceutical Landscape (August 15, 2019). University of the Pacific Law Review, Vol. 51, pp. 593-620, 2020, Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-32, Available at SSRN:

Peter K. Yu (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States


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