Growth in US Prescription Drug Market Hits 40-Year Low

March 25, 2008
Patricia Van Arnum

Patricia Van Arnum was executive editor of Pharmaceutical Technology.

ePT--the Electronic Newsletter of Pharmaceutical Technology

The US market for prescription pharmaceutical grow only 3.8% in 2007, the lowest growth rate in more than 40 years, according to a recent analysis by IMS Health.

Norwalk, CT (Mar. 12)-The US market for prescription pharmaceuticals grew only 3.8% in 2007, the lowest growth rate in more than 40 years, according to a recent analysis by IMS Health. This is a strong drop in growth from 2006, when the market expanded by 8%.

Total US prescription sales reached $286.5 billion in 2007. Slower sales growth resulted from the loss of exclusivity of branded medicines, fewer new product approvals, the leveling of year-over-year growth from the Medicare Part D program, and the impact of safety issues, according to IMS.

“In 2007, the US pharmaceutical market experienced its lowest growth rate since 1961,” says Murray Aitken, IMS’s senior vice-president of Healthcare Insight, in a company release. “The moderating growth trend that began in 2001 resumed last year following the one-time impact on market growth in 2006 from the implementation of Medicare Part D. Last year, we saw a continuing shift away from primary care classes to biotech and specialist-driven therapies, which grew at a 9% and 10% pace, respectively. Among the leading therapy classes, oncology drugs continued their rapid growth, at 14%-the result of innovative new medicines, expanded indications, and accelerated uptake of products to fill unmet needs.”

With prescription sales of $18.4 billion, lipid regulators continued to be the largest therapy class in the US despite a 15.4% year-over-year sales decline, according to IMS. Proton pump inhibitors ranked second, with prescription sales of $14.1 billion and growth of 2.8%. Antipsychotics replaced antidepressants as the third-largest therapeutic class in 2007, with prescription sales growth of 12.1% to $13.1 billion.

Volume growth declines as well

Total US dispensed prescription volume grew at 2.8% in 2007 compared with 4.6% in 2006. Overall, the top five therapeutic categories-antidepressants, lipid regulators, codeine and combination pain medications, ace inhibitors, and beta blockers-continued to lead the market in terms of prescription utilization.

Generics and innovation drought plague Rx drugs

Branded drugs representing $17 billion in sales lost exclusivity in 2007, helping to drive prescription volume growth of 10% for unbranded generics, according to IMS. In 2007, generics continued to replace branded prescriptions in the major therapeutic classes, increasing their share of total dispensed prescriptions to 67.3%. IMS projects that an additional $13 billion in branded products are likely to be exposed to generic competition in 2008.

As generics take a large piece of the pharmaceutical market, innovation is stalled. New, innovative medicines represented just $441 million of total sales in 2007, reflecting both the fewest new product launches in the past three decades and slower adoption by physicians of these products, according to IMS.

Sales growth in 2007 also was affected by a significant number of “black box” warnings, product withdrawals, and safety concerns raised by the US Food and Drug Administration for products in the erythropoietins, diabetes, and antidepressant therapy classes. IMS estimates that safety issues contributed to significantly lower–than–expected sales for products accounting for approximately 10% of the total prescription market.

Outlook improves only slightly

In the near term, IMS projects only moderate improvement in US pharmaceutical prescription sales growth with annual growth of 3–6% through 2012.

“The US pharmaceutical market has entered a new era-one characterized by more modest growth due to the continuing impact of new generics products, fewer and more narrowly indicated novel medications, and closer scrutiny of safety issues,” says Aitken in a release. “We will see additional lower-cost treatment options for many patients, while new and innovative therapies are delivered to specific patient groups, such as those suffering with cancer. Safety issues will be closely monitored and are likely to bring added caution to the market over the next several years.”