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Green light for online prescription drug sales soon

Meng Jing
Updated: Apr 3,2015 9:25 AM     China Daily

Regulators in China are expected to clear online sales of prescription drugs soon, as the widely expected administrative regulations for the Internet food and drugs business has been completed.

The Shanghai Securities News said on April 1 that the regulation, drafted by China’s Food and Drug Administration, is expected to be implemented soon as China attaches great significance to the “Internet plus” strategy.

The regulation is likely to allow the online sales of prescription drugs, which account for most of China’s huge pharmaceuticals market, and further expand distribution channels, said the report.

China’s Food and Drug Administration could not be reached for comments on April 2.

The approval for online prescription drug sales will be a major growth booster for China’s medical e-commerce sector, said industry experts.

“Following the deregulation of prescription drugs, the medical e-commerce sector in China will double from its current size in a year or two,” said Lin Wenbin, an analyst with IT consultancy Analysys International.

Lin said that the whole business-to-customer medical e-commerce sector in China, which was estimated at 7.6 billion yuan ($1.24 billion) in 2014, has been waiting for the approval.

Indications that the government was not too averse to giving the green light came late last year, when the CFDA permitted 400 companies to sell non-prescription drugs online, nearly double the number of licenses given in 2013.

However, taking into account the overall health of the people, Lin said the CFDA will not immediately allow all prescription drugs to be sold online. “I would say that they will open 10 percent of all prescription drugs to test the waters,” he said.

Ren Bin, who develops an app that can deliver non-prescription drugs to people’s doorstep after receiving orders online, said even opening a slice of the huge prescription drugs market would be a big boost to the industry.

“Prescription drugs account for more than two - thirds of the pharmaceutical market. But because taking the wrong pill or overdoses can be very dangerous for people, I think there would be some detailed requirements about selling prescription drugs online.”

“It is quite possible that prospective customers would need to furnish online prescriptions for making purchases,” he said.

The Internet has revolutionized many traditional sectors such as retail, video and finance with its ability to lower costs and improve efficiency. Ren said the Internet can do the same for the pharmaceutical market, even helping push medical reforms in China, not to mention the time people can save.

“People often complain about the high price of drugs in China. With the Internet, they can easily compare the prices between different retailers, and this would eventually bring down the prices of the whole sector,” he said.