January 18, 2006

Argentina's retail pharmacy sales totalled ARS6.4bn (US$2.1bn) in 2005, with hospitals adding a further US$230mn -- but in just three years, generics have captured a 15% share of sales.

The products' low cost has been key to their success. A recent study by the health think tank Isalud of Argentina's 68 highest-selling APIs, which are sold in 2,153 presentations, indicates that typical savings over branded equivalents are 54%. This differential can rise to 120% in relation to 20% of available APIs, which are typically the most expensive drugs on the market.

However, the reported cost savings of generics in Argentina owe much to the legal framework for the sector. Local drug firms mainly produce "similares," or "generic" drugs that are alleged to be therapeutically equivalent to other drugs -- even if the reference product is patented. A 2002 law that obliged INN prescribing, passed in the wake of the country's economic collapse, has also driven the copy sector's expansion.

There is growing evidence that "similar" drugs -- once the mainstay of the low-price public hospital sector -- are conquering the more profitable territory of the retail market. Reflecting this trend is the recent acquisition of many small Argentine drugmakers, indicating that the sector is consolidating and becoming more lucrative.

Generics trade associations report that Argentine companies invested US$50mn in boosting capacity between 2002 and 2004. Meanwhile, the local sector's exports -- which are mainly regional -- have doubled in three years to some US$10mn. Higher import costs in the wake of the currency's devaluation have also boosted local drug output, with many local firms manufacturing branded drugs under license from major international drugmakers.