Drug sales up 5.1% in 2009

U.S. prescription drug sales outperformed in 2009, rising by 5.1 percent to $300 billion. Why the jump from the paltry 1.8 percent growth in 2008? Increased use of expensive specialty treatments, for one thing, plus an absence of big safety scandals and a not-overwhelming number of patent expirations, according to Medical Marketing & Media. Demand for antidepressants and cancer drugs led the way, Bloomberg reports.

But while 2009 sales seem healthy by comparison to the previous year, that growth looks paltry when lined up against the double-digit increases pharma enjoyed earlier in the decade. "In 2009, demand for pharmaceuticals proved stronger than in the prior two years, yet remained at historically low levels," says IMS's Murray Aitken, senior vice president, Healthcare Insight, in a statement.

Aitken pointed out that, while 32 new drugs were launched in 2009, including some high-priced cancer meds, those debuts only fueled a "limited increase" in drug spending. But likewise, new generics didn't cut as much into sales growth as they have in previous years.

Perhaps most importantly, however, patient demand for prescription drugs was strong last year, both for new prescriptions and for refills, in spite of the poorly performing economy, IMS found. More people continued taking their meds, rather than skipping refills, "perhaps more than many had expected," Aitken told Reuters.

Antipsychotics remained the best-selling class of medications, with revenue holding steady at $14.6 billion. Acid reflux drugs beat cholesterol meds out for second place, with 5 percent growth in scrips and revenues of $13.6 billion. Antidepressants moved up from fifth place to fourth with 3 percent growth to $9.9 billion.

- see the IMS release
- read the article from Reuters
- check out the Bloomberg story
- see the coverage from MM&M

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