PHARMACY

Walgreens reports March sales increase of 2.3%

BY Michael Johnsen

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens on Wednesday reported March sales of $6.2 billion, an increase of 2.3%. 

March pharmacy sales increased by 0.4%, while comparable store pharmacy sales were down 1.5%. This year’s March had one additional Sunday and one fewer Thursday compared with March 2012, Walgreens reported, so pharmacy same-store sales were actually up by 1.9% when adjusted for the calendar day-shift. Calendar day shifts negatively impacted pharmacy sales in comparable stores by 340 basis points. Calendar day-shift adjusted comparable store pharmacy sales were negatively impacted by 480 basis points due to generic drug introductions in the last 12 months. 

Pharmacy sales accounted for 62.2% of Walgreens’ total sales for the month.

Prescriptions filled at comparable stores increased by 4% in March and increased 7.4% on a calendar day-shift adjusted basis. In comparison, industry-wide script growth was up 3.1% for the four weeks ended March 16, according to Credit Suisse analyst Ed Kelly citing IMS data. With the flu season past, Kelly noted, the industry "still appears to be seeing relative solid growth." 

Total front-end sales increased 5.4% compared with the same month in fiscal 2012, while comparable store front-end sales increased 4.2%. Front-end sales will have benefited from a March 31 Easter — last year Easter sales fell in April. As a result Walgreens will report combined comparable store sales for March and April with its April sales results. 

Kelly warned that front-end sales boosted by an earlier Easter may help mask underlying concerns, industry wide. "Recent commentary from multiple retailers suggest that consumers remain challenged by macro/fiscal pressures," Kelly wrote in a March 2 note. "We also believe that increased competition and promotions from value players continue to be a head-wind for the drug retail channel."

Customer traffic in comparable stores at Walgreens decreased 1.3% while basket size increased 5.5%.

Overall sales in comparable stores increased by 0.7% in March. Calendar day shifts negatively impacted total comparable sales by 210 basis points, while generic drug introductions in the last 12 months negatively impacted total comparable sales by 300 basis points.

Registrations for Walgreens Balance Rewards loyalty program, which launched in September, totaled more than 64 million through March. 

Walgreens opened 12 stores during March, including four relocations, and closed one.


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PHARMACY

Reports: Indian Supreme Court strikes down leukemia drug patent

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK — A ruling by India’s high court means cheaper generic versions of a cancer drug will remain available in developing countries, according to published reports.

The New York Times reported that the Indian Supreme Court ruled drug companies there could keep making generic versions of Swiss drug maker Novartis’ leukemia medication Gleevec (imatinib). According to the Times, generic versions of Gleevec in India cost about $2,500 per year, compared with $70,000 per year for the branded version.

Still, the Times noted, the ruling is part of a larger debate between large drug companies and developing countries. Drug companies say they need to charge high prices to recoup the cost of innovation, while developing countries say they need to ensure access to medications by making cheaper generics easier to get.

The Indian Supreme Court ruled that the patent for Gleevec was invalid because the drug was not a true invention; under Indian law, only medicines discovered after 1995 can be patented, and the court reasoned that because Novartis had developed an earlier version of the drug in 1993, and the version on the market wasn’t sufficiently different from that version, other companies could make generic versions.


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Rx Response reporting system gets name change

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW ORLEANS — A coalition of drug and pharmacy organizations formed to address patients’ medication needs during disasters is changing the name and Web address of its reporting system to make it easier to remember, the organization said Tuesday.

Rx Response announced Tuesday at the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans that the Pharmacy Status Reporting Tool would change its name to Rx Open, accessible at RxOpen.org. The group was originally formed after Hurricane Katrina to ensure the continued flow of medicine to patients following disasters like hurricanes, terrorist attacks and pandemic influenza, and the PSRT was deployed in 11 states after the landfall of Hurricane Sandy.

"We are excited that our technology was able to make such an important difference for emergency managers and the citizens affected by Super Storm Sandy," Rx Response director Erin Mullen said. "To make this valuable resource even more accessible in future disasters, we’re excited to introduce Rx Open. We are confident that this easy-to-remember name and corresponding web address will help make it even easier to get medicine to patients in times of emergency."

The group also introduced Rx on the Run, its new name for the Downloadable Prescription Medication Wallet Card, an online tool that enables patients to enter information about prescriptions and contact information for medical providers and print the information on a wallet-sized card.

 

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