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Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Mar 22 (Reuters) Global pharmaceutical sales grew last year at their slowest pace since 1998 amid tightened spending by healthcare payors, safety concerns over painkillers and relatively few big product launches, according to a report released on Tuesday.

However, 94 so-called ''blockbuster'' drugs -- those with annual sales of at least $1 billion -- accounted for more than one-third of all global pharmaceutical sales in 2005, according to the report by pharmaceutical information company IMS Health Inc.

The number of blockbusters was up from 36 such products in 2000, and 17 products last year reached the blockbuster sales mark for the first time.

''We expect that blockbusters will continue to be an important part of pharmaceutical market growth over the next five years, due to new uses for existing therapies, the emergence of niche/specialty products and the ongoing demand for chronic disease treatments,'' said Murray Aitken, IMS senior vice president for corporate strategy.

Overall, prescription drug sales rose 7 per cent to $602 billion in 2005.

Growth in the 10 largest markets by country rose only 5.7 per cent, compared to 7.2 per cent the previous year. However, sales in several emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe helped pick up the slack.

For example, prescription drug sales in Russia rose 20 per cent, Korea 15 per cent, and Turkey 54 per cent. In China, pharmaceutical sales rose 20.4 per cent to $11.7 billion.

''This is where the growth is going to come from for the next five years, 10 years, 20 years and more,'' Aitken said.

In the United States and mature European markets, efforts by governments and insurers to control spending tempered overall growth.

The market removal of Merck&Co.'s blockbuster painkiller Vioxx and safety concerns regarding the class of drugs also hurt sales in 2005.

And a relative lack of launches of major new products took a toll.

''If you look at launches over the past two to three years, the mix of products has not provided as strong growth as we saw five to 10 years ago,'' Aitken said.

Sales of biologically derived drugs helped propel growth, rising 17.1 per cent to $52.7 billion.

Such drugs include the Herceptin breast cancer treatment sold by Roche Holding AG and Genentech Inc., and Abbott Laboratories' Humira rheumatoid arthritis medicine -- both of which eclipsed $1 billion in annual sales last year.

Of 2005 sales growth in the top 10 markets, 40 per cent came from launches of new products -- notable among them the diabetes treatment Byetta, sold by Eli Lilly&Co. and Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Sepracor Inc.'s sleep aid Lunesta.

Twenty-eight per cent of growth came from price increases, while 32 per cent stemmed from volume increases or shifts in product mix.

IMS forecast over the next five years that the global pharmaceutical market will grow annually on average by between 5 per cent to 8 per cent. That pace is also expected for sales in North America and Europe, while sales in Japan are expected to rise between 3 per cent to 6 per cent.

In the rest of Asia Pacific and Africa, sales are expected to climb between 9 per cent to 12 per cent, while the Latin American market is seen growing 7 per cent to 10 per cent.

REUTERS SD VC1650

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