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Pharma unprepared for annus horribilis

Published on 12/01/12 at 04:14pm

A new survey shows pharma is not prepared to deal with the tough year ahead as many blockbuster drugs begin to go off patent. 

A record number of drugs will lose their patent protection during 2012 in the US, leaving them exposed to generic competition and reducing revenues of drugmakers by up to 40 per cent.

Whilst pharma is well aware of the patent cliff, it has not done enough to prepare for the end drop, according to a new survey undertaken by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit.

It shows that only 17% of respondents - made up from pharma and healthcare executives - think the industry is doing enough to combat the loss of revenue predicted in 2012.

The Economist Intelligence Unit calculates that nearly $29 billion in US drug revenues will be exposed to generic competition over the next year, with the global total being around $60 billion.

The crunch is already upon the world’s biggest pharma firm Pfizer, which saw its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor come off patent in the US during November.

The drug generated sales of over $10 billion in 2010, but these will now be decimated.

The world’s second-biggest selling drug, Plavix, an antiplatelet made by BMS and Sanofi, comes off patent in the US this year after making more than $6 billion there during 2010.  

AstraZeneca’s Seroquel, Merck’s Singulair and Takeda’s Actos, among a number of other blockbuster drugs, will also face generic competition in the US during 2012.

Difficult times ahead in developed markets

Pharma companies are likely to encounter particular challenges in European markets, where the combination of ageing populations, new medical technologies and patient demand is putting increasing pressure on government budgets ravaged by the debt crisis.

Many countries have already cut salaries and pensions for healthcare workers and have also slashed pharma prices, whilst introducing regulations to encourage the use of generic drugs. 

The report says European pharma sales are expected to fall marginally again in 2012, marking the fourth straight year of decline for the region.

It says that the US has a slightly better outlook as it has a younger population and an expansion of healthcare budgets, which will protect pharma’s budget.

But the coming November presidential elections mean there is huge uncertainty: even if President Barack Obama wins a second term, as 50% of the survey respondents expect, he will continue to face challenges to his healthcare reforms. 

As major developed markets experience an extended period of austerity, global healthcare spending will be driven largely by emerging markets, particularly in Asia.

China in particular is rolling out huge public health programmes that are also attracting private investment, further helping Asia’s attractiveness in the eyes of pharma.

The Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts that healthcare spending in Asia will account for over 23% of the global total by 2015 - up from 14% in 2006 - putting it on a par with Western Europe’s 24% share.

Overall, nearly half of all respondents expect market conditions for the healthcare industry to worsen in 2012, compared with 61% who expect the global economy to worsen.

Ben Adams 

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