The global pharmaceutical market is expected to grow at a 5%-6% pace in 2008, compared with 6%-7% this year, according to data from IMS Health, while the slowdown in growth in the USA will be even more marked.

Commenting on the new report, Murray Aitken, senior vice president of Healthcare Insight, IMS, noted that for the first time, the seven largest markets will contribute just half of overall pharmaceutical growth. He added that as the impact of established drugs losing patent protection accelerates, “we will see a decline for the first time in the size of the $370-$380 billion audited market for primary care-driven drugs”.

The decline is most significant in the USA, the study notes, and sales growth there next year is expected to range from 4%-5%, “a historic low.” This will be due a levelling-off of growth from the introduction of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, patent expiration of branded products and an associated increase in the use of lower-cost generics. Also of importance is a rise in pressure from payers to control costs and limit access to certain treatments “and heightened safety scrutiny and healthcare legislation that is slowing, and in some cases halting, the introduction of new medicines”.

Drugs with approximately $20 billion in annual sales will face patent expiry in 2008, similar to levels seen over the past two years, which will help drive growth of generics by 14%-15% next year, to more than $70 billion. In 2008, more than two-thirds of all prescriptions written in the USA are expected to be for generics, says IMS, and new government contracting initiatives in Germany, and educational programmes in Japan, Spain and Italy will drive greater generics use in those markets.

However, the seven “pharmerging” markets of China, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, India, Turkey and Russia are expected to grow 12%-13% next year, to $85-90 billion. IMS said that in these markets, “there is significantly greater access both to generic and innovative new medicines as primary care improves and becomes more available in rural areas”. In these countries, ongoing economic growth “will continue to shift the focus away from infectious diseases and toward cardiovascular, diabetes and other chronic illnesses”, the report adds.

“These indicators paint the stark reality of a marketplace in transition,” said Mr Aitken, adding that “the actions being taken by companies to reinvent themselves will need to continue at an accelerated pace”. He went on to say that in this market environment, “building relationships directly with patients as they become better educated and take a more active role in their own healthcare also is essential”.