THE CHANGING fortune of just one drug was responsible for most of Glaxosmithkline’s woes in the first quarter, an alarming reminder of how dependent the pharma business can be on a few blockbuster treatments.
Glaxo’s best-selling asthma inhaler, Advair (marketed as Seretide in the UK), was dropped from an approved list by Express Scripts, the largest private pharmacy benefit manager in the United States. That meant patients had to pay retail for the drug, which can be more than $300 (£178) for one inhaler.
The resulting fall in revenue was stark. Total Advair sales were down 15 per cent in the quarter to £1,039m, with underlying US sales down 20 per cent. Without that £183m decline, the company’s disappointing total sales, which fell two per cent (£114m), would have looked very different.
The effect could have been worse. Looking at earnings per share, Glaxo held up well, and the company continues to target healthy growth this year on that measure. But it’s startling to see one decision on one product causing such a dent.