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Recession squeezing pharmaceutical sales

Slowest rate of growth in quarter of a century predicted, according to data tracked in 100 countries.

TRENTON, N.J. — Pharmaceutical sales, squeezed by the worldwide recession, will increase globally by the slowest rate in a quarter-century and decline in the U.S. this year, according to a new forecast.

The forecast by data firm IMS Health is a big sign that an industry long considered recession-proof is feeling the effects of the global slowdown.

IMS, which tracks medication sales in more than 100 countries, said Wednesday it expects a growth rate of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent worldwide over 2008 sales. That’s about two percentage points below the prior IMS forecast, in October, and far below the 6.5 percent to 8 percent growth rates from 2004 through 2007.

“This is the lowest growth rate we’ve seen in 25 years,” said Murray Aitken, a senior vice president at IMS.

In the U.S., IMS expects pharmaceutical sales to actually decline by a percent or two this year, then remain flat through 2013. U.S. sales have never declined in the 52 years IMS has tracked them.

Reasons for the slowdown in the U.S. include the recession, looming competition from cheaper generic versions of cholesterol treatment Lipitor and several other blockbuster drugs, the lack of new big sellers, more pressure by insurers and government payers to hold down their costs, and patients having to pay more of their own prescription costs.

IMS said it expects global sales of prescription and nonprescription drugs to total more than $750 billion in 2009, after calculating the impact of exchange rates.

That’s down from its October prediction of more than $820 billion.

About $15 billion of that change is directly attributable to the economy, Aitken said. The rest is attributable to the effects of a strengthening dollar, because IMS converts all sales from local currencies into dollars at current and expected exchange rates to arrive at its total estimate.

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