The biopharma industry is so dynamic and has had so many watershed moments for one reason or another that for someone to proclaim a new one is pretty pointless. And so I won’t.
Still, it does feel as if something’s happening here. The building tensions over pricing, and a review of the top 15 companies by 2016 revenues, suggests the relentless march forward of drug prices and profits may have slowed.
Sales for the top 15 companies were up about 4% for the year combined, certainly not a figure that shows great strides. Four companies in the top 15 saw their revenues fall for the year, while others reported results that would be classified as flat.
The companies prominent in the diabetes field have been under payer pressure for several years now, and sales at Sanofi and Novo Nordisk illustrate that, even if Eli Lilly managed to see some significant gains in diabetes meds in the fourth quarter.
And of course we’ve seen the drug price probes into both generic and branded drugs and the public flogging of Mylan over its EpiPen price hikes. And don’t forget that the newly elected president called a bunch of pharma CEOs to his office to lecture them to get drug prices “way down” and U.S. investments way up.
Even before that, some drugmakers had responded to the rising chorus of criticism by pledging to keep price increases to single digits. Others have since followed suit, prompting questions about some drugmakers’ ability to continue growing sales without pricing freedom.
Perhaps the most telling moment came during the third quarter, when wholesaler McKesson reported earnings and net income that were off about 50%, then revised its earnings outlook downward for the year, leading investors to bust its share price down by 20% for the day. McKesson and other wholesalers had already been reporting major softness in generic pricing, but this time it was branded prescription drug prices that were softening, and McKesson warned that it looked like a situation likely to bleed through this year, too.
Still, the pharma industry has managed over the years to maintain a Teflon-like exterior that has shed controversy and various legislative assaults. In fact, Express Scripts, the largest U.S. pharmacy benefits manager, recently said its calculations show brand-name list price increases in 2016 were nearly 11%. So maybe drugmakers will come out of this brouhaha with little lasting damage.
Top 15 pharma companies by 2016 revenue
1. Johnson & Johnson
5. Merck & Co.
8. Gilead Sciences
14. Eli Lilly
15. Bristol-Myers Squibb
Mar 14, 2017