More pharma types worry publicly

Will the gloomy news about Merck's 2009 prove a harbinger of pharma fortunes in general? Merck CFO Peter Kellogg said during a conference call with analysts yesterday that prescription volume has been slowing since the beginning of the third quarter. But he didn't yet know whether that was a product problem or a pharma problem.

Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Sorensen is starting to worry about the pharma biz. So far, he told Forbes, drugmakers haven't felt much pain, but if the downturn accelerates and the economy deteriorates more deeply, the sector could be in for some long-term suffering. That was yesterday; today, we're wondering whether the November jobs report--which showed an employment drop of more than 500,000, far beyond most analysts' predictions--qualifies as acceleration or deterioration or both.

In the long run, Sorensen said, drugmakers  might have to lower prices, and they might be less willing to introduce new products. Even so, some pharma firms will find opportunities to grow, he said. With biotech buyouts, for instance, made cheaper in the overall market deflation.

At least one analyst is still looking on the bright side, though: CNBC's Mike Huckman reports that UBS's Roopesh Patel has analyzed the last six recessions and found no erosion of pharma spending during those downturns. Huckman asks, could this one be different?

- see the Forbes article
- read CNBC's column