India's drug biz grows 16.5%, aided by Big Pharma

The Indian pharma industry continued its growth streak with a 16.5 percent upswing in 2010 sales. And IMS Health predicts similar results for 2011, citing improved economic conditions that have spurred demand and allowed more healthcare spending. Drugmakers have helped drive industry growth, too; as pharma companies push into rural areas and other underserved markets, sales are rising.

Interestingly enough, Indian sales growth was fueled by Big Pharma as much as by domestic drugmakers. Global drugmakers' medications squeezed out all but one local formulation on IMS's list of 2010's top-selling drugs in India. Pfizer's cough medicine Corex boasted the biggest share of the Indian market, with Abbott Laboratories' insulin drug Human Mixtard in second place with 27 percent growth in sales. Novartis' painkiller Voveran won third place, and GlaxoSmithKline's antibiotic Augmentin came in fifth.

Piramal was the only local company with a drug in the top five: cough syrup Phensedyl, which occupied in fourth place. Piramal's drug business was recently sold off to U.S.-based Abbott Labs. Antibiotics from several India-based companies made a strong showing, however, and domestic drugmaker Cipla claimed the biggest market share (5.21 percent)--because Abbott and Piramal's businesses have yet to be combined.

The foreign influence runs both ways. Fitch predicts that U.S. demand for generics will push Indian pharma sales in the near term. While domestic sales will still be Indian drugmakers' bread and butter--and will still be profitable--it's the U.S. market that will be "the main growth driver," the ratings agency predicts. After all, Indian companies have been aiming for $96 billion worth of branded drugs that they expect to go off patent in the U.S. over the next three years.

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