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Swiss drug market grows amid high price concerns

The Swiss pharmaceutical industry made healthy sales last year totalling SFr3.6 billion ($2.6 billion).

This content was published on February 28, 2003 - 18:59

The actual volume of drugs sold went down, but total income grew by 6.6 per cent.

The rate of growth was less than that of the previous year, which was 9.6 per cent.

Industry associations blamed falling drug prices and the rising popularity of generics in the Swiss market.

Presenting the results on Friday were Interpharma, the association for importers of pharmaceutical specialties (VIPS) and the Swiss Society of Chemical Industries (SGCI).

However, the industry says the Swiss market's growth last year mirrored the worldwide trend, which reached seven per cent.

Even the United States was not immune to depressed rates of growth - it grew only by 11 per cent, in contrast to 2001, when it expanded by 19 per cent.

Downturn

Thomas Binder of IHA-IMS Health said the presence of generics on the market was a key factor inhibiting industry growth.

The market share of generics increased by 15.8 per cent during 2002, translating into a total of SFr102.7 million. This product group accounted for some three per cent of all pharmaceuticals sold last year.

Binder predicted a rosy future for the generic segment. Over the next three years, some of the best-selling drugs in Switzerland, with an annual income of SFr300 million, are set to lose their patent protection, he said.

Certain drugs have had their prices slashed as part of an annual price comparison scheme, which pegs Swiss prices to those in other European countries.

Hospital demand

Drug demand from hospitals was strong - pharmaceutical companies supplied 18.4 per cent more drugs to hospitals during 2002, at a cost of SFr671 million.

Binder said the increase was due to treatments for critical diseases, such as cancer or Aids.

He also predicted that the whole Swiss market for pharmaceuticals would grow by about seven per cent annually.

High prices

The results arrived during the same week that a survey revealed that Swiss patients were paying over the odds for drugs that could be bought more cheaply in neighbouring European countries.

The study, commissioned by the health insurance company, Swica, claims the Swiss pay as much as 28 per cent more than the French for certain drugs.

The industry associations say the results served only to confuse the general public and were compiled using inaccurate data.

Interpharma's general secretary, Thomas Cueni, explained that an independent survey last year discovered that nearly half the Swiss population mistakenly believed that drug prices account for 22 per cent of health insurance costs.

Walter Hölzle, VIPS' director, told swissinfo the real figure was close to 11 per cent.

"The problem with the study was that they did not compare real prices on the same level," said Hölzle. "For Switzerland, [the price they used] included additional taxes that are not paid with the product as such."

He insists that Swiss patients are not, by and large, being ripped off, saying they pay more or less the same for the ten most popular drugs sold in Europe, as the British, Germans, Dutch and Danish.

The issue of drug prices comes amid ongoing debate in Switzerland about the rising cost of healthcare.

Health insurance premiums have risen for several years running and the country is due to vote on a health initiative in May, which could pave the way for means-tested, monthly contributions

Hölzle feels the real problem lies not in the cost of medicines but in the overall structure of the country's health insurance system.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

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