Increased drug sales may yield overall economy's comeback

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT The uptick in prescription drug sales growth may or may not be yet another indicator of improvement in the U.S. economy, but it is, without a doubt, indicative of a return to growth for the prescription drug market and, by extension, an indicator of growth among retail pharmacies.

(THE NEWS: U.S. drug sales saw growth in 2009, IMS Health says. For the full story, click here)

When IMS Health reported that prescription drug sales had $300.3 billion in sales in 2009, a 5.1% increase over 2008, the figure included every distribution channel. But the bulk of those sales, $164 billion, were through retail channels, including retail pharmacy chains, independents and supermarket pharmacies.

The biggest increase between 2008 and 2009 was in chain stores, which saw a 3.6% increase in prescription drug sales, from $101.8 billion to $105.5 billion. Sales in supermarkets increased by 1.4%, from $20.9 billion to $21.2 billion. Meanwhile, independents had a 2.1% decrease, from $38.1 billion to $37.3 billion. A similar trend appears when figures for dispensed prescriptions are broken down by distribution channel, with a large increase in chain stores, a smaller increase in supermarkets and a decrease in independents.

Sales of specialty drugs went up as well. With $8 billion in sales, compared with $7.5 billion in 2008, monoclonal antibodies for treating cancer rank sixth in IMS’ list of the top 15 therapeutic classes, compared with their seventh-place ranking last year. Biotech drugs for treating arthritis and inflammatory diseases rank eighth and fourteenth, respectively, though erythropoietins, for treating anemia, had a $900 million decrease in sales.

IMS doesn’t have a specific category for the specialty channel, but it does have them for mail service and home health care, two channels used extensively by specialty pharmacies. Though drug sales through the home healthcare channel had a slight decrease, from $2.6 billion in 2008 to $2.5 billion in 2009, mail-service sales increased from $46 billion to $51.5 billion, placing the channel in second place, below retail pharmacy chains, even though it ranked last when measured by U.S. dispensed prescriptions, which also decreased slightly, from 238.4 million in 2008 to 237.5 million in 2009.

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