The branded medicines “patent cliff” will slow growth in Belgium’s pharmaceutical market to an average of just 0.46% each year to 2014, in local currency terms, down from the 3.4% average annual increases reported for 2004-9, say new forecasts.

Belgium’s drug market last year reached a value of 4.59 billion euros and will be worth 4.75 billion euros in 2010, falling to 4.57 billion euros in 2013 as medicines continue to lose intellectual property protection, according to a new report from Companies and Markets. Sales will then rise again in 2014, to 4.70 billion euros, and higher growth levels will continue to be seen to 2019, when the market will be worth 5.19 billion euros, as the growing use of high-value biologic drugs, and in particular personalised medicines, spur annual increases averaging 1.24% in local currency terms, it forecasts.

Although medicines sales growth in Belgium is low, the country has a very large market in absolute terms, per capita spending in high and there is a good-size pensionable population, says Companies and Markets. However, despite comparatively high levels of pharmaceutical consumption, Belgian patients’ access to innovative medicines has in the past been hindered by the country’s complex reimbursement system.

According to the industry association pharma.be, strict prescribing rules led the situation in 2008 that, of the one million patient population targeted to receive the 46 drugs added to the reimbursed list during the year, only 300,000, or 30%, met the required prescribing conditions and were able to access them. Again, in 2009, only 27% of the 8,200 patients targeted to receive 13 new products accepted onto the list in the early part of the year were actually able to receive them, notes another recent report, from Business Monitor International (BMI).

Last year’s national drugs budget was set at 3.86 billion euros, an increase of 10.8% on 2008, but because 2008’s budget was exceeded the 2009 allocation actually provided for a spending rise of around 3.2% over 2008 levels, says a further study, from Espicom. Much of the extra funding was used to finance increased expenditures on innovative drugs, particularly cancer treatments, as part of the national cancer plan launched by federal Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx in 2008, it adds.

Espicom also notes the fast growth of the generics market but adds that moves to switch to a system of tendering for generics and other high-volume, off-patent products, has called into question further development of the industry.

Belgium’s import/export trade in pharmaceuticals far exceeds the size of the domestic market because many drugmakers use the country as an international distribution centre, a trend which is expected to continue, adds Companies and Markets. Industry figures estimate that pharmaceuticals account for around 10.6% of Belgium’s total exports, and last year they reached a value of just under $51 billion which, with imports worth $44.29 billion, produced a positive trade balance of $6.68 billion, it notes.