AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals group, is set to expand the purchase of raw materials and semi-manufactured medicines from China in the next few years as it boosts outsourcing.

AstraZeneca plans to grow its value of annual contracts in China from $10m to about $100m (£50m) over the next three years, with a similar boost in India.

The expansion represents only a modest amount of the total $9bn each year that it already out-sources around the world, including $1.5bn for supply and manufacturing.

According to the AstraZeneca’s officials the company is seeking a sound business case, starting with the back end of production. But it would never compromise patient or safety issues in the process. Further it had no plans to outsource supply and manufacturing fully, but was exploring external manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients, the basic chemicals used to make medicines.

The pharmaceutical industry has been shifting clinical trials to test experimental drugs outside Western Europe and North America into emerging economies in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Companies aim to reduce costs while finding "treatment naïve" patients and sufficiently strong medical infrastructure to meet regulatory requirements. A growing proportion of such trials are already outsourced via clinical research organizations.