ImageSales of prescription drugs contracted in October and November for the first time in four years.The pharmaceuticals industry, once thought to be recession-proof, is no longer immune to an economic slowdown, with sales of prescription drugs contracting in October and November for the first time in four years, said a pharma retail auditor.

According to data released by ORG IMS Research Pvt. Ltd, the country’s largest drug retail audit firm, prescription drug sales actually shrank by an average 1.2% to Rs2,877.7 crore in October last year, against Rs3,226.3 crore in September. It improved marginally in November, with sales growth of 6.8% at Rs2, 903.4 crore, but was still less than September sales.

The sales growth in October and November were between 8% and 10% in 2006 and 2007, according to an internal industry survey conducted by drug companies.

The overall industry growth has shown a marked drop—from 12% to an average of 7%, especially in the last two quarters,” Kewal Handa, managing director, Pfizer Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of the world’s largest drug maker Pfizer Inc., said in an email. “The slowdown, coupled with liquidity crisis, has resulted in low demand for pharmaceutical products.”

ORG IMS collects data from a panel of 6,000 doctors across India. No independent audits are conducted on the sales of over-the-counter medicines. The country has about 500,000 registered medical practitioners.

“The key reasons could include a slow cut in expenditure on costly drugs, maybe dividing purchases to small quantities, shift of focus to low-cost medications, and certainly the winter season trend of more focus on over the counter medications to address temporary ailments like cough and cold, infections, etc.,” said R.D. Joshi, senior consultant, knowledge management, at the Mumbai-based pharmaceutical marketing consultancy firm Interlink Marketing Consultancy Pvt. Ltd.

“This period (October-November) is a healthy season, which shows less prescription for therapeutic areas other than asthma and COPD,” said Shashank R. Joshi, a Mumbai-based consulting endocrine and metabolic physician, and editor of Journal of Association of Physicians of India. COPD is short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in which airflow to the lungs is obstructed.

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