Is The Global Generic Drug Market Slowing Down?

Driven by a strong environmental headwind, both within and outside the country, several pharma companies in India have recently started raising a red flag on their future earning guidance for the stock market, though citing quite different reasons altogether. Quoting the following two recent examples, I shall illustrate this point:

“For decades, the generic drug business has followed a simple model for growth: wait for a chemical medicine to go off patent, then copy it. But 2018 promises to be one of the industry’s last big bumper crops, with $27.8 billion worth of therapies losing protection. The following year’s haul drops by almost two thirds, and the year after it shrinks even further” – reported the May 27, 2017 article in Bloomberg titled, ‘Pharma Heir Seeks a New Holy Grail as Generic Drugs Run Dry,” quoting the promoter of Glenmark.

Another May 27, 2017 article by Reuters also quoted similar business sentiment, though for a much different reason, of the world’s fifth-largest generic drug maker – Sun Pharma, following similar concerns of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd and Lupin Ltd. Here, the promoter of Sun Pharma said, “We may even have a single digit decline in consolidated revenue for full-year 2018 versus full-year 2017.”

These red flags, though signal different reasons, prompt some fundamental questions: Is the global generic drug market, especially the US, slowing down? If so, what then is the real reason of the anticipated business slow-down of large Indian pharma players? Is it due to lesser number of patented products going off-patent in the future years, or is it due to pricing pressure in various countries, including the US, or a combination of several other factors alongside? In this article, I shall deliberate on this emerging concern.

Global generic drug market – the past trend:

Several favorable environmental factors have been fueling the growth of generic drug prescriptions across the world, and the trend continues going north. Currently, the growth of generic drug prescriptions is outpacing the same for the patented ones. According to the April 2017 research study titled “Generic Drugs Market: Global Industry Trends, Manufacturing Process, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2017-2022”, published by IMARC, the global generic drug market was valued at around US$ 228.8 Billion in 2016, growing at a CAGR of around 9 percent during 2010-2016.

This trend has been well captured in numbers, from various different angles, in the September 2016 report of Evaluate Pharma, as follows:

Global trend of prescription generic drug sales (2008-2015) 

Year 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Global Rx Drug Sales (2008-15) (US$ Billion) 650 663 687 729 717 724 749 742
Growth per Year (%) +2.0 +3.5 +6.1 (1.6) +0.9 +3.5 (1.0)
Rx Generics Drug Sales (US $Billion) 53 53 59 65 66 69 74 73
Generics as % of Total Rx Drugs 8.2 8.0 8.6 9.0 9.2 9.5 9.9 9.9
% Market at risk to patent expiry or available for new generic drugs entry 3.0 4.0 4.0 5.0 7.0 4.0 5.0 6.0

(Table 1: Adapted from the report ‘World Preview 2016, Outlook to 2022’ of EvaluatePharma, September 2016)

The Table 1 shows, while the overall global sales growth of prescription drugs faltered during 2012-15 period, mainly due to after effects of patent expiry of several blockbuster drugs, the general trend of generic drug sales continued to ascend. As we shall see below, the projected trend in the succeeding years is not much different, either.

Global generic drug market – present, and projected future trend:

The global generic drug market is currently growing at a faster pace than the patented drugs, and this overall trend is likely to remain so in future too, as we shall find below.

Globally, North America, and particularly the US, is the largest market for generic drugs. According to the QuintilesIMS 2016 report, generic drugs saved patients and the US health care system US$227 billion in 2015. Although around 89 percent of the total prescriptions in the US are for generic drugs, these constitute just 27 percent of total spending for medicines. In other words, the share of patented drugs, though, just around 11 percent of total prescriptions, contribute 73 percent of the total prescription drug costs.

Backed by the support of Governments for similar reasons, Europe is, and will continue to register impressive growth in this area. Similarly, in Latin America, Brazil is the largest market for generic drugs, contributing 23 percent and 25 percent of the country’s pharma sector by value and by volume, respectively, in 2015.

Major growth drivers to remain the same:

The following major factors would continue to drive the growth of the global generic drug market:

  • Patent expiration of innovative drugs
  • Increasing aging population
  • Healthcare cost containment pressure, including out of pocket drug expenditure
  • Government initiatives for the use of low cost generic drugs to treat chronic diseases
  • Despite high price competition more leading companies are taking interest in generic drugs especially in emerging markets

India – a major global player for generic drugs:

India and China dominated the generic drug market in the Asia pacific region. India is the largest exporter of the generic drug formulations. A large number of drug manufacturing plants belonging to several Indian players have obtained regulatory approval from the overseas regulators, such as, US-FDA, MHRA-UK, TGA-Australia and MCC-South Africa. Consequently, around 50 percent of the total annual turnover of many large domestic Indian drug manufacturers comes from exports.  The top global players in the generic drug market include Teva Pharmaceuticals, Novartis AG, Mylan, Abbott, Actavis Pharma and India’s own Sun Pharma.

No significant change in the future market trend is envisaged:

When I compare the same factors that fueled the growth of global prescription generic drug market in the past years (2008-2015) with the following year (2016), and the research-based projections from 2017-2022, no significant change in the market trend is visible.

Global trend of prescription generic drug sales (2015 – 2022)

Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
Global Rx Drug Sales (2015-22) (US$ Billion) 742 778 822 873 931 996 1060 1121
Growth per Year (%) (-1.0) +4.8 +5.7 +6.2 +6.6 +7.0 +6.5 +5.7
Rx Generics Drug Sales (US $Billion) 73 80 86 92 97 103 109 115
Generics as % of Total Rx Drugs 9.9 10.3 10.5 10.5 10.4 10.4 10.3 10.3
% Market at risk to patent expiry or available for new generic drugs entry 6.0 6.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 2.0 2.0 5.0

(Table 2: Adapted from the report ‘World Preview 2016, Outlook to 2022’ of EvaluatePharma, September 2016)

The Table 2 shows, the overall global sales growth trend of prescription drugs appears a shade better in 2008-15 period, even with the after effects of patent expiry (Table 1), as compared to 2016-22. The scope for entry of new generic drugs goes below 4 percent of the total prescription drug market only in two years – 2020 and 2021. Thus, any serious concern only on this count for a long-term growth impediment of the global generic drug market, post 2018, doesn’t seem to be based on a solid ground, and is a contentious one. Moreover, the sales trend of prescription generic drugs as a percentage of the total value of all prescription drugs, hovers around 10 percent in this statistical projection, which is again a shade better than around 9 percent of the past comparable years.

What triggered the major pricing pressure?

With its over 40 percent of the total pharmaceutical produce, predominantly generic drug formulations, being exported around the world, India has become one of the fastest growing global manufacturing hubs for medicinal products. According to Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), United States (US) is the largest market for the India’s pharma exports, followed by the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa, Russia, Nigeria, Brazil and Germany.

Since long, the largest pharma market in the world – the US, has been the Eldorado of pharma business across the globe, mostly driven by the unfettered freedom of continuously charging a hefty price premium in the country. Thus far, it has been an incredible dream run, all the way, even for many large, medium and small generic drug exporters from India.

However, ongoing activities of many large drug companies, dominated by allegedly blatant self-serving interests, have now given rise to a strong general demand on the Governments in different countries, including the US, to initiate robust remedial measures, soon. The telltale signs of which indicate that this no holds barred pricing freedom may not be available to pharma, even in the US, any longer.

Self-inflicted injury?

The situation where several major Indian generic companies are in today, appears akin to an avoidable self-inflicted injury, basically falling in the following two important areas. Nonetheless, even after the healing process gets over, the scar mark would remain for some more time, till the business becomes as usual. Hopefully, it will happen sooner than expected, provided truly ‘out of box’ corrective measures are taken, and followed up with a military precision.

Huge price hikes:

According to the Reuters report of September 11, 2016, US Department of Justice sent summons to the US arm of Sun Pharma – Taro Pharmaceutical Industries Inc. and its two senior executives seeking information on generic drug prices. In 2010, Sun Pharma acquired a controlling stake in Taro Pharmaceutical Industries.

On September 14, 2016, quoting a September 8, 2016 research done by the brokerage firm IIFL, ‘The Economic Times’ also reported that several large Indian generic drug manufacturers, such as, Sun Pharma, Dr. Reddy’s, Lupin, Aurobindo and Glenmark have hiked the prices of some of their drugs between 150 percent and 800 percent in the US. These apparently avoidable incidents fuel more apprehensions in the prevailing scenario. As I wrote in this Blog on September 12, 2016, the subject of price increases even for generic drugs reverberated during the last Presidential campaign in the US, as well.

Serious compromise with product quality standards:

Apprehensions on dubious quality standards of many drugs manufactured in India have now assumed a gigantic dimension with import bans of many India made generic drugs by foreign drug regulators, such as US-FDA, EMA and MHRA. Today, even smaller countries are questioning the Indian drug quality to protect their patients’ health interest. This critical issue has started gaining momentum since 2013, after Ranbaxy pleaded guilty and paid a hefty fine of US$ 500 million for falsifying clinical data and distributing allegedly ‘adulterated medicines’ in the United States.

Thereafter, it’s a history. The names of who’s who of Indian drug manufacturers started appearing in the US-FDA and other overseas drug regulators’ import ban list, not just for failing to conform to their quality standards, but also for willful non-compliance with major cGMP requirements, besides widely reported incidents of data fudging and falsification of other drug quality related documents.

Global murmurs on generic drug quality among doctors:

There are reported murmurs both among the US and the Indian doctors on the generic drug quality standards, but for different drug types and categories.

According to the Reuters article published on March 18, 2014, titled “Unease grows among US doctors over Indian drug quality”, many US doctors expressed serious concerns about the quality of generic drugs supplied by Indian manufacturers. This followed the ‘import bans’ by the USFDA and a flurry of huge Indian drug recalls there. Such concerns are so serious, as India supplies about 40 percent of generic and over-the-counter drugs used in the United States, making it the second-biggest generic drug supplier after Canada.

While the doctors in the US raise overall quality concerns on the products manufactured by the large Indian branded generic companies, Indian doctors are quite at ease with the branded generics. They generally raise quality concerns only on generic drugs without any brand names.

Thus, a lurking fear keeps lingering, as many feel that Indian drug manufacturing quality related issues may not necessarily be confined only to exports in the developed world, such as, the United States, European Union or Canada. There is no reason to vouch for either, that such gross violations are not taking place with the medicines consumed by patients in India, or in the poorer nations of Africa and other similar markets.

In conclusion:

Sun Pharma has publicly expressed its concern that pricing pressure in the US may adversely impact its business in 2018. There doesn’t seem to be any major surprise on this statement, as many believe it was likely to happen, though for a different reason, since when the global media reported in September 2015: “FDA revokes approval for Sun Pharma’s seizure drug over compliance issues.”

As investors are raising concerns, the following comment by the Co-Chairman and Chief Executive of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, reported by ‘Financial Express’ on August 24, 2015, well captures the vulnerability of Indian generic drug business in this area: “The U.S. market is so big that there is no equivalent alternative. We just have to get stronger in the U.S., resolve our issues, build a pipeline and be more innovative to drive growth.”

Inadequate remedial measures could unleash this pressure to reach a dangerous threshold, impacting sustainable performance of the concerned companies. On the other hand, adequate remedial action, both strategic and operational, could lead to significant cost escalation, with no space available for its neutralization through price increases, gradually squeezing the margin. It will be a tight rope walk for many in the coming years.

As research reports indicate, the global generic drug market is not and will not be slowing down in the long term, not even in India. There may be some temporary ups and downs in the market due to pricing pressure, and the number of novel products going off-patent in some years. Nevertheless, the traditional business models being followed by some large companies may retard their respective business growth, considerably.

The pricing pressure is a real one. However, from the Indian perspective, I reckon, it’s primarily a self-inflicted injury, just as the other major one – the drug import bans on the ground of serious compromise with product quality standards. Many Indian generic drug players don’t believe so, and probably would never will, publicly.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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