U.S. drug sales saw growth in 2009, IMS Health says

NORWALK, Conn. Pharmaceutical sales are on the rise, 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.