July 25, 2011

Drug Prices Will Soon Drop Worldwide

According to a London research firm, the cost of prescription medicines used by people every day is about to drop, reports the Associated Press (AP).

Seven of the world's 20 best-selling drugs will become generic versions in the next 14 months.

EvaluatePharma Ltd said that between now and 2016, blockbuster drug patents worth about $255 billion in global annual sales will go off patent.

Generic versions of drugs for blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, depression, high triglycerides, HIV and bipolar disorder will become generic by 2012.

According to prescription benefits manager Medco Health Solutions Inc., the flood of generics will continue for the next decade or so, as about 120 brand-name prescription drugs lose market exclusivity.

"My estimation is at least 15 percent of the population is currently using one of the drugs whose patents will expire in 2011 or 2012," Joel Owerbach, chief pharmacy officer for Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, which serves most of upstate New York, told AP.

Generic drugs typically cost 20 percent to 80 percent less than the brand names.

Doctors hope the prices of the drugs lower significantly to help reduce the number of people jeopardizing their health because they cannot afford the medicines they need.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of The Women's Heart Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, told AP she worries about patients who are skipping checkups and halving pills to fare costs.

"You can pretty much tell by the numbers when I check the patient's blood pressure or cholesterol levels," that they've not taken their medications as often as prescribed, she says.

The new generics will also slice copayments of those with insurance.

According to consulting firm Wolters Kluwer Pharma Solutions, the average generic prescription cost $72 last year, versus $198 for the average brand-named drug.

IMS health said the average copayments last year were $6 for generics, compared with $24 for brand-name drugs given preferred status by an insurer and $35 for nonpreferred brands.

Protonix, a drug for heartburn that just recently went off patent, now costs just $16 a month for the generic, compared to $170 for the brand name. 

According to Labor Department data, pharmaceutical companies have cut about 10 percent of U.S. jobs in four years.  About two-thirds of the cuts came in the last 1 1/2 years. 

Brand-name companies are trimming research budgets, partnering with other companies to share drug developmental costs and shifting more manufacturing and patient testing to low-cost countries.

Drug companies are trying to grow sales by putting more sales reps in emerging markets like China and India. 

According to the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, generics saved the U.S. health care system over $824 billion from 2000 through 2009, and now save about $1 billion every three days.