US pharma sales grew just 1.3 percent last year, according to data released by IMS Health on Friday. That’s a disappointing decline from the double-digit growth of just a few years ago—but well in line with projections of how sales would respond to a dreary economy and a lack of new blockbuster drugs.
Predictably, Pfizer came in on top, with sales of $20.5 billion, down from $23.6 billion in 2007. Teva and Bristol-Myers Squibb showed the most growth, with sales of $9.2 billion and $8 billion, respectively.
Lipid regulators were the most prescribed class of drugs, with nearly 202 million scrips written last year. On a dollar-for-dollar basis, antipsychotics racked up the most sales in a therapeutic class, $14.6 billion, edging out lipid regulators at $14.5 billion.
“We continue to see a high rate of change, so I wouldn’t categorize 2008 as ho-hum,” said Diana Conmy, corporate director of market insights at IMS Health. “We continue to see the regulatory environment home in on safety first, and as a result there were some products that didn’t make it out to the market in 2008. Some were delayed due to approvable letters and others due to delays.”
With a grand total of 291.5 million drug units sold in 2008, pharma didn’t have a shabby year either. Pfizer’s Lipitor was the top-selling drug once again at 7.8 million units, down from 9.1 million in 2007. Nexium, Plavix, Advair Diskus, and Seroquel rounded out the top five—all jumping in sales from the previous year.
However, it’s hard to ignore the looming patent cliff—most notably for Lipitor—coming in the next few years. All of the drugs in the top 15 have had decent life cycles, but few blockbusters are expected to take their spots.
“The new products in the market are not contributing as heavily to growth as they did five or ten years ago,” Conmy told Pharm Exec on Tuesday. “That’s not to say that there aren’t any innovative or important products coming to market. Specialty products are contributing positively to growth. It shows that manufacturers are developing products to address areas of unmet need, which is a positive.”
One new wrinkle is the impact of the larger economy on the pharma market, a factor that IMS had to contend with in 2008. However, Conmy said that pharma is relatively bulletproof in a recession, due to the inherent need for medication.
“Medicines are essential for consumers, and [people] are going to place more importance on holding on to existing medications,” she said. “I think that puts the pharma industry in a better place than the auto industry; intuitively, it makes sense—you don’t have to go out and buy a new car if the one you have is running.”
IMS plans to revise its update for 2009 in the near future. The research firm said it doesn’t expect the recent mergers to affect its forecast, because most of the late-stage pipelines will remain intact.