Like a snowball that gets bigger and bigger as it hurtles down the side of a mountain, generic drugs pose an increasingly large threat to branded pharmaceutical companies. Wolters Kluwer Health’s annual analysis reveals that more than 60% of all US prescriptions filled in 2008 were generics. For orally administered medicines, the percentage was even greater. In 2008, 2.4 billion prescriptions were filled for generic drugs, and only 1.4 billion for branded therapies—an unprecedented divide, according to the report.
What’s Big Pharma to do?
“Put its shoulder to the wheel and develop new drugs,” some innovator companies might answer. Take Pfizer (New York), for example. The company said it achieved its goal of advancing 12 new molecular entities (NMEs) into late-stage development by March 2009. The heavyweight hopes to increase its Phase III pipeline to 24–28 NMEs by December 2009 and file 15–20 regulatory submissions from 2010 to 2012. Pfizer’s absorption of Wyeth’s (Madison, NJ) research and development (R&D) department might give the company an advantage.
But other data in the Wolters Kluwer Health analysis raise the suspicion that a supercharged R&D effort won’t necessarily save innovators’ bacon. Last year, the rate of prescription abandonment jumped 34% over the 2006 level (a prescription is abandoned when a patient fails to pick it up from the pharmacy). The greater the copay, the greater the likelihood that a prescription will be abandoned, says the report.
The data suggest that the battered economy is a major factor behind increased sales of generic drugs. And the economy is one problem that innovator companies are probably not equipped to solve. Might Big Pharma become more and more involved in manufacturing generics?