2008 Market Summary From IMS Health: US Pharma Sales Up 1.3%, the Lowest in Decades

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - April 2009

US total reaches $291.5 billion; dispensed prescriptions up 0.9%

Based on its National Sales Perspective audited compilation, IMS Health’s annual summary of US pharma sales (at the trade level) totaled $291.5 billion; its 1.3% increase did not even match the rate of inflation for the year, and the percentage increase is the lowest seen since the 1960s. Aside from the nosedive that the US economy suffered in the latter half of the year, the causes for the nearly nonexistent growth are not new, says Diana Conmy, corporate director of market insights for the Norwalk, CT, company: “Patent expirations are causing branded products to be replaced with lower-cost generics, and at the same time, the more cautious approval approach by FDA has slowed the introduction of new products,” she says.

The very slight increase (0.9%) in dispensed prescriptions, to 3.843 billion, can be looked on as a glass half-full, half-empty situation. There had been numerous reports over the past year that patients were neglecting medical care and avoiding drug purchases because of the straitened economic circumstances, unemployment and under- (or non-) insurance. But as bad as the economy has been, the dispensing continued to grow, giving some credence to the recession-proof aspect of biopharma.

Channel trends

By distribution channel (see chart), chain drugstores made out relatively well, increasing their sales volume by 3.8%. Reversing a trend of at least the past four years, independent pharmacies dropped 1.6%; they had been experiencing slow but steady growth in recent years. Food stores (aka mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart) showed a 5.0% decline in sales volume; however, since the volume of dispensed prescriptions rose slightly, this is indicative of their rock-bottom pricing of generics, such as Wal-Mart’s highly publicized $4/month prescription service.

In a generally gloomy overall picture, one standout is mail service, which had only 6.2% of dispensed prescriptions (actually down slightly from the year before), but 15.8% of the dollars, or $46.0 billion. That figure was up 2.0% from the year before. The disconnect between the volume of prescriptions and the sales volume indicates that mail service is successfully capturing some of the growth in high-value specialty pharmaceuticals.

In domestic sales, the rank of the leading companies is Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, but all of these companies except A-Z had lower pharmaceutical sales in 2008. The companies with the largest proportional growth in 2008 were Teva (up $1.3 billion, or 20%) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (up $1.1 billion, or 15.9%).

Top therapeutic classes are anti-psychotics ($14.6 billion), lipid regulators ($14.5 billion), proton pump inhibitors ($13.9 billion), seizure disorders ($11.3 billion) and anti-depressants ($9.6 billion). The “genericization” of the lipid regulator category shows up dramatically in the IMS Health data: Although the volume of dispensed lipid drugs has grown by 11.3% since 2006, the dollar volume has fallen by 27%, from the all-time high of $19.9 billion in 2006.

“The US remains the largest market for pharmaceuticals in the world, so a slowdown here will affect global statistics,” says IMS Health’s Conmy. “But while growth has slowed in maturing markets, it is still rising in the ‘pharmerging’ markets abroad,” she notes. PC

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