IMS lists best drug launches of all time

It's not easy being a global pharmaceuticals company. First, you have to develop drugs--and then you have to sell them, not only to your home country, but around the world. And there lies the rub, according to a new study from IMS Health.

The research firm found that, of 4,225 drugs launched, only 35 landed near the top of the heap in more than one country within two years. Why? Very few companies customized their sales pitches country-by-country. Tailored marketing isn't necessary only for cultural reasons, but also because different countries have different ways of paying for drugs: private insurance, state health services, and so on. In some countries, doctors have more influence--including the U.S., of course, but also in Italy and Japan. In others, doctors let regulators make their drug choices for them. Too often, drug makers ignore these distinctions; IMS concluded that only 15 percent of the drug launches successfully adapted to local markets.

The best launches of all time? Pfizer's Lipitor and Viagra, and Merck's Fosamax. IMS also included Eli Lilly's launch of Zyprexa and GlaxoSmithKline's of Avandia on that list, but we think they're disqualified. Hiding adverse safety data (Lilly) and black-box warning labels (GSK) will negate a successful start-up every time.

- read the report on the drug sales report from CNN