Price of primates drops in China post Covid boom

China market

A drop in the prices of non-human primates (NHPs) in China indicates a post-pandemic slowdown in Chinese drug development, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The price of NHPs in China increased from $4,000 per animal in 2019 to $26,000 in 2022, but by the end of 2023, had fallen to $11,000. The figures are taken from UBS data.

UBS China healthcare analyst Chen Chen said the price increase was due to “booming investment” in drug discovery in the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic as a result of efforts to develop vaccines.

In 2021, about 30,000 monkeys were bred in China, according to China’s NHP Breeding and Development Association.

The Financial Times reports that falling primate prices have prompted Chinese biotech groups that bought monkey farms during pandemic-era supply crunches to write down the value of their assets.

Investment in China’s healthcare sector fell from $31 billion in 2021 to $12 billion last year, according to UBS research. Data provider Pharmcube reported that investment on new drug discovery in China fell by 32% in 2023 to $4.8 billion.

However, data from Statista predict a recovery in 2024, with the value of the Chinese pharmaceuticals sector increasing from $110.77 billion in 2023, to $118.99 billion in 2024 and then growing at a rate of 7.22% per year to 2028.

Severe shortage of NHPs in the US

While the prices of NHPs are dropping in China, there is a severe shortage in the US which is driving up prices and impacting research programmes. China was the largest supplier of NHPs to the US, but banned their export in 2020 due to the spread of coronavirus.

This shortage led to an increase in illegal imports. In 2023, The Guardian reported that the lucrative underground trade risks undermining research, creating new pandemics, and fuelling wildlife trafficking.

The US also banned the purchase of monkeys from Cambodia, after exposing a smuggling ring for wild monkeys, so this has compounded the supply issues.

Diana Spencer, Senior Digital Content Editor, DDW

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