France's pharmaceutical market fell 1.5% to 27.2 billion euros in 2012, a decline driven by a 2.8% drop in pharmacy sales, say new official figures.

Pharmacy drug sales totaled 21.1 billion euros for the year, while inpatient drug sales rose 3% to 6.1 billion euros, reports the national drug safety agency, the ANSM.

Cost-containment measures, including price cuts and pro-generic policies, are behind last year's drop in the market, which reversed the continued steady growth experienced since 1999, comment analysts at IHS Global Insight. They also note that while French sales of generics had dropped in 2011, the introduction in mid-2012 of new measures aimed at encouraging generic substitution had resulted, by year-end, in generics accounting for one in four drugs purchased, up from one in five in 2011. Last year, generics accounted for around 14% of the market by value and some 26% in terms of volume.

The biggest-selling drugs on the outpatient market in France last year were lipid-modifying agents, with a 5.5% share of total sales, followed by analgesics (5.4%), respiratory system treatments (5.3%) renin-angiotensin system agents (5.0%) and diabetes treatments (4.7%).

Leading the inpatient drug market last year were antineoplastics, with a 26.6% market share, followed by immunosuppressives (11.5%), antihaemorrhagics (9.4%), systemic use antivirals (7.5%) and antisera and immunoglobulins (5.1%)

Meantime, the French Competition Authority is expected this month to publish an interim report on the findings of its inquiry, begun in February, into the costs and pricing of medicines in France.  One aspect of this is looking at whether "industry practices" are interfering with the market entry of generic drugs, focusing on distribution arrangements between drugmakers, wholesalers and pharmacists, although it is reportedly not looking at patent settlement - "pay-for-delay" - agreements.

Critics have recently attacked drugmakers for what they believe to be unnecessarily high prices, following the drop in numbers of state-reimbursed medicines which is causing patients to cut back on needed medicines. This will inevitably lead to far greater health problems, and expenditures, for the healthcare system, which is expected to report a deficit of 8 billion euros by the end of the year, but the critics say “more rational” drug pricing could save the taxpayer at least 10 billion euros this year.

After the Competition Authority publishes its interim findings, it will begin a public consultation and is expected to issue a final report by year-end.