Irish pharmaceutical exports to the US, the nation's "number one" overseas market, slumped 30% in the first six months of 2012, new industry figures show.

Exports to the US fell from just over 11 billion euros in January-June 2011 to 8.7 billion euros in the first six months of this year, a "severe downturn" which was the result of the full impact of the end of patent protection hitting drug exports during the period, the Irish Exporters Association (IEA) has reported.

These figures showed that "Ireland's over-dependency on pharma exports to the United States was coming home to roost," added the Association's chief executive, John Whelan.

"Many of the major Irish-based exporters of pharmaceutical and active chemical ingredients for the life sciences industry are facing sustained price pressure, as patent-protected markets are now open to generic manufacturers who are now free to compete without the overhead burdens of the original producers. This market development has impacted on exports from the sector, which fell by 5% in the first half of the year," says the report.

Moreover, this will have a major impact on total Irish export values this year, as the sector represents over 50% of manufacturing export sales from Ireland, it adds. However, as patent protection is by market, the impact of expiries will vary according to the export country destination. Therefore, exports to the US during the first half of this year were mostly impacted as the early patent registration were made there and, as a result, patent protection has come to an end earliest in that market.

However, Irish pharmaceutical exports to European Union (EU) member states continued their long-term trend growth of 6% during the period, says the Association report. It goes on to point out that "the industry has been calling for more streamlined approval processes, particularly within the EU, to enable a lower cost in the development and market launching of new medicines onto the market."

"This would tend to level the playing field between companies who develop new drugs and those that copy existing products, removing the patent cliff that it currently impacting the industry,” it adds.

The report also shows a 33% gain in pharmaceutical and chemical exports to the UK, boosted by the falling value of the euro against sterling.

- Meantime, the Irish government said on Monday that it will begin talks with drugmakers in two weeks’ time with the aim of at cutting the prices of generic drugs.

A report in the Sunday Business Post newspaper at the weekend stated that Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) is currently paying over 12 times more for generics than the prices at which the NHS in Britain obtains them. This is because of an agreement approved two years ago by the Irish Department of Health which allows generic drugmakers to charge the HSE as much as 98% of the price of the original branded product.