U.S. Drug Sales Saw Growth In 2009, IMS Health Says
Pharmaceuticals appear to be slowly making a comeback, as 2009 saw drug sales almost three times as high as in 2008, according to a new report by IMS Health.
IMS reported 5.1% sales growth in ethical pharmaceuticals and insulins through retail and nonretail channels, with sales reaching $300.3 billion, compared with 1.8% growth in 2008.
“In 2009, demand for pharmaceuticals proved stronger than in the prior two years, yet remained at historically low levels,” IMS SVP Healthcare Insight Muray Aitken said. “While the 32 innovative products launched last year brought important new treatment options to patients in a number of disease areas – including cancer, thrombosis and atrial fibrillation – they drove only a limited increase in drug spending. Access for the first time to lower-cost generic treatment options in the areas of epilepsy, migraine and immune system disorders had a more moderate impact on market growth than generic launches in previous years.”
Greater use of specialty drugs accounted for much of the growth, growing 7.5% last year and now constituting 21% of U.S. market value, and sales of monoclonal antibodies for treating cancer – such as Genentech’s Avastin (bevacizumab) and Herceptin (trastuzumab) and Rituxan (rituximab), by Genentech and Biogen Idec – grew by 9%.
Meanwhile, economic conditions didn’t dampen demand for prescription drugs, as the volume of dispensed prescriptions grew by 2.1%, to 3.9 billion, compared with 1% growth in 2008; while the volume of new therapy starts in 17 major chronic disease areas declined by around 1%, the volume of add-on therapy starts, switches and refills rose by almost 2%. Use of generic drugs has continued to rise, and generics now represent 75% of all dispensed prescriptions in the United States, with the total number of prescriptions having increased in 2009 by 5.9%.
“The greater availability of generic options, growing differentials in co-pays between brands and generics and efforts by patients, insurers and employers to encourage appropriate use of lower-cost alternatives were all factors in the changing mix of medicines used in patient treatment last year,” Aitken said.
Prescription sales of antipsychotics remained unchanged compared with 2008, at $14.6 billion, but the class remained the top-selling one in the United States. Measured by dispensed prescription volume, lipid regulators remained the largest therapy class, with prescriptions growing by 5%, to 212 million. At the same time, proton-pump inhibitors replaced lipid regulators as the second-largest therapeutic class in terms of sales, with sales of $13.6 billion, though that represented a 2% year-over-year decline. Lipid regulators had sales of $13.1 billion, a 10% decline from 2008 that resulted from an ongoing shift to generics.
WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT
The uptick in prescription drug sales growth may or may not be yet another indicator of improvement in the U.S. economy, but it is, without a doubt, indicative of a return to growth for the prescription drug market and, by extension, an indicator of growth among retail pharmacies.
When IMS Health reported that prescription drug sales had $300.3 billion in sales in 2009, a 5.1% increase over 2008, the figure included every distribution channel. But the bulk of those sales, $164 billion, were through retail channels, including retail pharmacy chains, independents and supermarket pharmacies.
The biggest increase between 2008 and 2009 was in chain stores, which saw a 3.6% increase in prescription drug sales, from $101.8 billion to $105.5 billion. Sales in supermarkets increased by 1.4%, from $20.9 billion to $21.2 billion. Meanwhile, independents had a 2.1% decrease, from $38.1 billion to $37.3 billion. A similar trend appears when figures for dispensed prescriptions are broken down by distribution channel, with a large increase in chain stores, a smaller increase in supermarkets and a decrease in independents.
Sales of specialty drugs went up as well. With $8 billion in sales, compared with $7.5 billion in 2008, monoclonal antibodies for treating cancer rank sixth in IMS’ list of the top 15 therapeutic classes, compared with their seventh-place ranking last year. Biotech drugs for treating arthritis and inflammatory diseases rank eighth and fourteenth, respectively, though erythropoietins, for treating anemia, had a $900 million decrease in sales.
IMS doesn’t have a specific category for the specialty channel, but it does have them for mail service and home health care, two channels used extensively by specialty pharmacies. Though drug sales through the home healthcare channel had a slight decrease, from $2.6 billion in 2008 to $2.5 billion in 2009, mail-service sales increased from $46 billion to $51.5 billion, placing the channel in second place, below retail pharmacy chains, even though it ranked last when measured by U.S. dispensed prescriptions, which also decreased slightly, from 238.4 million in 2008 to 237.5 million in 2009.