Price Controls Expected to Slow Drug Sales in 2010

April 23, 2010

Pharmaceutical sales growth worldwide will slow this year due to expiring patents for blockbuster drugs and tighter price controls imposed by European governments.

Health industry data firm IMS Health estimates global prescription drug sales growth to slow to between 4 percent and 6 percent compared with 7 percent in 2009. U.S. pharmaceutical sales growth will be slightly slower, in the 3 percent to 5 percent range, according to IMS.

Pharmaceutical companies have struggled for more than a decade to replace blockbuster drugs developed in the 1990s, leading to a recent spate of consolidation between companies like Pfizer Inc. and Wyeth. With the increasing expiration of drug patents, pharmaceutical sales growth has fallen from double-digit advances early last decade to single-digit growth.

Over the next five years, drugs worth more than $142 billion will face new competition from lower cost generics, according to IMS. In the U.S., a half dozen blockbuster drugs will lose U.S. patent protection between 2011 and 2012 alone, including Pfizer's cholesterol pill Lipitor and GlaxoSmithKline PLC's asthma drug Advair.

Adding to the pressure of patent expirations, European governments will tighten price cost controls to manage increasing health care expenses of aging baby boomers. Unlike in the U.S., many European governments set national price limits for drugs dispensed within their countries.

"We've seen recent announcements in Germany and Spain of proposals that would significantly cut prices on pharmaceuticals," said Murray Aitken, a senior vice president at IMS.

But over the next four years, new demand in emerging markets like China, India and Brazil will offset declining sales margins in the U.S. and European, reaccelerating global sales. Pharmaceutical growth in developing countries will increase 14 to 17 percent through 2014, more than four times the 3 to 6 percent growth rate expected for the developed world.

Although sales growth will lag behind other countries, the U.S. will remain the world's largest pharmaceutical market in 2014, at an estimated $360 billion to $390 billion.

Drugs to treat cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and HIV are expected to see the most demand due to unmet medical need and advances in science.