UK: Over The Counter Medicine - Will Pharma Exploit The Potential In Emerging Markets?

Last Updated: 9 June 2014
Article by Karen Young

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

The over the counter medicine (OTC) market, whereby customers can buy drugs or medicines without a prescription is increasing in value and volume across the western world, with the potential for growth in emerging markets even more exciting.

However there are a number of challenges that multinational companies will need to address if they are to maximise this potential.

According to IMS, sales of OTC medicines currently account for approximately 11 per cent of the total global pharmaceutical market (or approximately €80 billion). Three regions account for 70 per cent of the global OTC market: Europe, comprising Western and Central Eastern Europe (CEE), accounts for the biggest share (33 per cent); North America 20 per cent; and South East Asia/China 17 per cent. Japan and Latin American command 12 and 10 per cent respectively, with other smaller regions making up the remainder. In 2008, for the first time, growth in sales of OTC medicines outstripped those of prescription-only medicines. This trend has continued year-on-year with global sales of OTC drugs growing at a higher rate than the growth exhibited by prescription-only medicines. Indeed between 2012 and 2013, while total global sales of prescription-only medicines grew by 3.3 per cent, sales of OTC drugs increased by 4.6 per cent.

In recent years, the decline in the growth of the prescription-only sector is due to a number of factors such as:

  • lower value generics dominating large therapy areas (i.e. statins)
  • demand-constrained payers needing to demonstrate better value for money
  • disappointing growth from emerging markets
  • life sciences research and development delivering fewer, high quality assets.

In contrast, the OTC market has experienced higher year-on-year growth as:

  • payers shift the cost burden of relevant diseases onto patients by promoting self-medication and the use of OTC medicines
  • pharmaceutical companies seek to exploit switch opportunities (the formal process of switching a prescription-only medicine to an OTC medicine) to protect revenues from branded drugs that are about to lose their patent protection 
  • new channels become available (e.g. supermarkets and the internet) increasing access to OTC medicines 
  • emerging markets add critical mass to the patient population available for self-medication.

Emerging markets are expected to continue to drive healthy growth for the global OTC industry largely as a result of an expansion in the middle classes. For example, by 2015 the Chinese middle class is forecast to reach 71 per cent of the population, or 280 million households, and as their disposable incomes increase so does their demand for better, timelier, access to healthcare.

Latin America is likely to be the fastest growth area for OTC medicine, with a predicted five year CAGR rate of 17 per cent to 2016. The South East Asian OTC market is expected to be the second fastest growing, with a forecast growth of 15 per cent over the same time frame. Closer to home, the OTC market in Western Europe is expected to grow at an only 1.6 per cent, while Central and Eastern Europe offers more potential, with a forecast growth rate of 8.8 per cent over the same five years.

There is no doubt that the OTC market, particularly in emerging markets, offers significant potential for the life science industry. But the customer is not the traditional customer of the life sciences industry and shifting focus from physicians and payers to consumers will be an important success factor for those companies wishing to compete effectively. While a number of global life science companies have increased their focus on developing their OTC or consumer arms, and are well-placed to realise the OTC potential offered by emerging markets, there are a number of challenges that all multinational corporations will need to address:

  • emerging economies are typically saturated with local players who are well-embedded in the healthcare system, understand local market dynamics and are more nimble than large western corporations. Large multinationals, wishing to succeed in these markets will need to identify the optimal organisational structure for effectively competing with local players, possess a thorough understanding of local market dynamics and, understand and engage with local stakeholders across the OTC and health value chain 
  • Intellectual property (IP) regulations are typically weak or poorly enforced in emerging economies. Governments of emerging economies argue that this is driven by the need to provide wide access to basic medicines for large but low income populations. Multinationals seeking to launch branded or original OTC medicines in these markets need to consider the likely level of IP protection that is available and to what extent this will be enforced 
  • Western OTC markets have gone through a period of regulatory liberalisation, such as: direct-to-consumer advertising, relaxation of advertising regulations, and increased access to OTC medicines through new channels such as supermarkets, convenience stores and online pharmacies. This trend is likely to spread to emerging markets, some are already moving towards a Western structure, with retail channels driving growth
  • OTC markets in emerging economies have traditionally been focussed on herbal remedies and preventative therapies. Indeed, over 50 per cent of Chinese and Indian consumers take supplements. Medicines which have previously been prescription-only drugs are predominantly for treating diseases not preventative therapies. There is uncertainty around whether the mind-set of OTC consumers in emerging markets can be broadened to accept prescription-only drugs as OTC medication.

There is no doubt that potential exists to generate significant OTC revenues from emerging economies. Evidence suggests that global pharmaceutical companies have struggled to realise the full potential of the prescription-only market in emerging economies due to local dynamics. Given the issues highlighted above, there is a real risk that the OTC market will play out in the same way and prove just as challenging for multinationals.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.