Tough times put screws on drug market

Times are tough all over. That's no news in the drug biz, which has been fighting familiar battles--generic competition, pricing pressure, et al--for a couple of years now. But they may be about to get tougher, thanks to the troubled economy. In fact, Walgreen CEO Jeffrey Rein says this is the tightest market for prescription drugs in his 27-year career.

Conventional wisdom has always pegged pharma as a defensive play, given that folks have to take their meds whether they're feeling flush or not. But that reasoning doesn't necessarily hold true for certain drugs, such as cholesterol meds and blood pressure pills; patients sometimes choose to skip a few to stretch out the time between refills. In July, a poll by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that 11 percent of Americans had cut back on their dosages to make meds last longer, Rein said.

Walgreen is hurting from this tightening up, and Rein says the trend is accelerating across the drugstore industry. Can it be long before that pain is felt by drugmakers, too?

- read the article in the Wall Street Journal
- see the WSJ Health Blog post