Feature Drug Industry

Radical treatments for difficult times

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2955 (Published 13 January 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:a2955
  1. Andrew Jack, pharmaceuticals correspondent
  1. 1Financial Times, London
  1. Andrew.Jack{at}ft.com

    The economic downturn is only one of many factors forcing the drug industry to rethink its strategy. Andrew Jack reports

    When AstraZeneca unveiled a programme of factory closures and 1400 job losses across Europe last November,1 some media reported it as yet another extension of the spreading chill of the recent global economic downturn. In fact, the announcement was the result of a decision that had been taken many months before, and with results that are likely to be deeper and longer than those of the crisis related measures seen in other sectors.

    In common with other large drug makers such as GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Merck, AstraZeneca is being forced to adapt at an increasing pace to a range of growing pressures. Drug companies’ existing products are under threat from expiring patents and the launch of similar new and generic equivalents; pipelines of experimental treatments to replace them are thin; health systems are making new demands as a condition of reimbursement; and the emerging markets are becoming ever more important.

    AstraZeneca, for example, is seeking to get a larger proportion of the statin market for its blockbuster drug Crestor (rosuvastatin) by differentiating it from other statins such as Pfizer’s Lipitor (atorvastatin) with extensive and costly new clinical studies.2 Both companies must adjust to fresh pressure on sales sparked by the sharp price drop when simvastatin went generic.

    AstraZeneca has also had to defend itself against the threatened launch of a cut price version of its asthma drug Pulmicort Respules (budesonide inhalation suspension). Teva, the Israeli generic manufacturer, was challenging the validity of the patent, which is not due to expire until 2013.3

    Sales threat

    Not long ago, operating costs were such a modest percentage of the sales price of …

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