I guess GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) really is serious about moving into emerging markets. After buying Bristol-Myers Squibb's (NYSE:BMY) businesses in Egypt and Pakistan last year, it's now off to Africa, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and Latin America with drugs it picked up from UCB.

Glaxo paid around $675 million for rights to sell UCB's drugs, including the big ones: Keppra for the treatment of epilepsy, and allergy treatments Xyzal and Zyrtec. The sales of the products that Glaxo purchased were expected to bring in around $150 million last year. A purchase price of about 4.4 times sales is higher than the 3 times sales that Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) is paying for Wyeth (NYSE:WYE), but developing countries offer huge potential growth, whereas Wyeth offers a whole lot of U.S. patent expirations.

While the move by Glaxo into emerging markets is a good one, it's not going to move the revenue needle that much until the countries become wealthy enough to pay for the drugs in large quantities.

In addition, investors looking for emerging-market exposure shouldn't fool themselves into thinking that they're getting a lot of that by investing in Glaxo, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY), or any of the other companies that have started selling drugs in developing nations. Instead, they'd be better off buying health-care companies that are directly focused on selling there, such as Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, Mindray Medical (NYSE:MR), or China Medical Technologies (NASDAQ:CMED).

Developing nations will offer some growth to pharmaceutical companies, but it would be better if they unpacked their bags and got back into the lab. Developing high-selling drugs is the only way they're going to return to past substantial growth.

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Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Pfizer is also an Inside Value recommendation, and the Fool owns shares. Mindray Medical is a Rule Breakers selection, and the Fool owns shares of this one, too. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.