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Haze a real money-spinner for pharmacies in Singapore

SINGAPORE — After more than three months of choking haze, life has pretty much returned to normal for Singaporeans, but for the pharmaceutical companies it is time to augment their therapeutic arsenals as the smoky skies are turning out to be an annual crisis that is causing more people to suffer from respiratory problems.

Haze a real money-spinner for pharmacies in Singapore

Local pharmacies have stocked up on drugs to manage symptoms aggravated by smoky conditions. Photo: Reuters

SINGAPORE — After more than three months of choking haze, life has pretty much returned to normal for Singaporeans, but for the pharmaceutical companies it is time to augment their therapeutic arsenals as the smoky skies are turning out to be an annual crisis that is causing more people to suffer from respiratory problems.

Multinational pharmaceutical firms are strengthening their respiratory drugs portfolio in the Republic, beefing up new launch plans on top of aggressively pushing existing drugs and other related products for respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Seldom do we see over five companies pushing the same class of medicines at the same time so aggressively. Due to the annual haze episode, the demand for respiratory medication is increasing every passing year as we see more patients turning up at clinics with such conditions,” said Dr Ong Kian Chung, a respiratory medicine specialist who is also the president of COPD Association Singapore.

British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) launched the asthma and COPD medication Relvar in Singapore last month and plans to unveil another inhaler here for COPD named Anoro — already available in several other countries — besides skincare products from its consumer healthcare portfolio.

“GSK is planning to launch other medicines to treat respiratory ailments in Singapore over the next 12 months. We are exploring how we can step-up our outreach to GPs to help ensure they get the most up-to-date guidance on asthma and COPD management. Further, there are derma-products in the consumer healthcare category, which GSK will launch in Singapore for dry and sensitive skin conditions,” said Ms Dipal Patel, general manager, GSK Pharmaceuticals Singapore.

Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim, which launched the inhaler Striverdi late last year, is understood to be in the process of bringing a new dual-bronchodilator to Singapore.

AstraZeneca, which sells Symbicort inhalers, is also planning to unleash its British-Swedish parents’ respiratory drugs in Singapore soon.

“Among South-east Asian countries, Singapore has the highest number of deaths from asthma. The burden of respiratory disease in Singapore is an ongoing cause for concern, and not just when the haze comes around. Unfortunately, many patients are not being diagnosed or they are not optimally treated. To address the current disease burden in Singapore, AstraZeneca is also enhancing patient and physician education about treating asthma optimally,” said Dr Viraj Rajadhyaksha, medical director of AstraZeneca Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

Two other smaller pharmaceutical companies — MundiPharma and Europharma — have stepped up their marketing strategies for inhalers, doctors said. MundiPharma markets Flutiform and Orient, while Europharma sells Foster inhalers. Apart from respiratory medications, products such as skin creams, eye drops and nasal sprays are seeing a surge in demand as environmental disruptions cause heat and dust irritation.

Local MundiPharma and Europharma said they have stocked up on medications to manage increased demand from consumers for symptoms such as sneezing, runny and blocked noses, itchy or sore throats and coughing that become aggravated as the skies get smoky.

“We do see a growth in demand for respiratory products as compared to last year. Retail pharmacists have seen an increased number of customers coming in for respiratory symptoms related to the haze. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as rhinitis and asthma have also presented themselves at pharmacies with exacerbating symptoms,” said Mr Dominic Wong, CEO of Watsons Singapore.

The average increase in demand during the haze period this year was about 10 per cent compared with the same period last year, said Mr Ezekiel Chin, marketing and branding director for Guardian Health & Beauty. Pharmacy chain Unity indicated a 5 per cent increase in sales of such products.

According to the latest Epic Asia COPD survey, the prevalence of COPD in Singapore is 5.9 per cent of the population.

“Our observational studies done recently by the COPD Association suggest higher prevalence of COPD in the elderly population and that the prevalence rate of COPD among females may be higher than previously thought,” said Dr Ong.

However, Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority noted that there are already a considerable range of medicines for the management of haze-related symptoms.

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