Rx Sales Jump 5.1 Percent to $300 Billion in 2009

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The demand for pharmaceuticals turned out to be stronger in 2009 than originally anticipated, with a 5 percent increase in dollars spent on drugs, bringing the total to $300 billion, according to the latest figures from IMS Health.

Analysts predicted that the economic crisis would have a severe impact on patient demand in terms of new therapy starts as well as for refills. But in fact, there was a 2.1 percent growth in dispensed prescriptions (3.9 billion in total).

More data from the report:

  • Specialty pharmaceutical sales grew 7.5 percent
  • Sales of antipsychotics remained steady at $14.6 billion
  • Sales of lipid regulators declined to $13.1 billion, down 10 percent
  • Proton pump inhibitor sales totaled $13.6 billion, down 2 percent
  • Antidepressant sales grew 3 percent to $9.9 billion

“Historically, the volume growth has been between two and 4 percent,” explained Murray Aitken, IMS Health’s senior vice president, Healthcare Insight. “On the dollar side, we’ve been tracking the US market since 1957, and there’s only been three years when growth was lower than it was in 2009—1961, 2007, and 2008.”

That’s a reminder that even though this year’s numbers are higher than the past two years, in the context of the way the market has grown over the past 50 years, prescription sales and growth are still at historically low levels.

“There were 32 new products launched last year, and they all have their own distinctive profiles and are meeting patient needs, but their contribution to overall market growth was quite limited,” Aitken said.

One of the reasons the market wasn’t hit so hard last year was a decrease in the number of drugs going generic. Those that did go off-patent were primarily specialist products; therefore, the impact was relatively low.

“[Last year], broke the slowing trajectory of growth that started a decade ago and was broken in 2006, and reached its low point in 2008,” Aitken said. “Now we are seeing a recovery, but we know there are tough years around the corner.”

Aitken doesn’t sound optimistic because he isn’t. Major drugs such as Lipitor are scheduled to go off-patent in the next few years, leading to a big sales dip in 2012.

The market has been under 10 percent growth in sales since 2003, with only 2006 showing real signs of improvements due to major product launches (Gardasil, Lucentis, Januvia, etc.). That was also the year that Medicare Part D was introduced, which gave a one-time coverage to patients who had previously been uninsured, hence increasing their use of drugs.