Growth in cancer-drug sales drops off sharply

The cancer-drug gold rush has slowed. For the first nine months of this year, sales of oncology meds rose by only 3.5 percent, compared with 9 percent for all of 2009--and that was down from 14 percent in 2007 and 23 percent in 2006. And as IMS Health SVP Murray Aitken tells Reuters, this year's growth was driven mostly by price increases.

As Reuters points out, 2006 was when Roche launched Avastin, a revolutionary drug that targeted cancer in an entirely new way. Although drugmakers have plowed lots of investment into cancer-drug development, recent introductions have been variations on existing therapies rather than brand-new innovations. And as some targeted therapies go off patent, spawning generic competition--think Sanofi-Aventis' Eloxatin, which will lose IP protection in 2012*--those copycats are drawing off sales.

"This is an unprecedented slowdown," Aitken said at the Reuters Health Summit. But he went on to say that the slowdown can be reversed. "If we had another Avastin or Herceptin, it would quickly change direction," he said.

- read the Reuters story

*The article incorrectly stated that Eloxatin lost patent protection in 2010.