14 March 2012
By Rupali Mukherjee
Several drugs launched over 20 years ago remain money spinners because of strong brand recall and better access to healthcare in smaller cities and towns
In an age where billions of dollars are being spent on research for new molecules and drugs, it appears that old is still gold in the Indian pharmaceutical market. The 20 to 22–year–old heritage brands of painkillers, vitamins and cough syrups continue to dominate the domestic pharma space and are still the money spinners.
Riding on a strong brand recall and increasing sales from rural and untapped markets, these drugs — including painkiller Voveran, health supplement Revital, and cough medication Corex — clocked annual sales of nearly Rs 200 crore each last year, and are growing at a strong double–digit clip year–on–year. Others heritage brands which are making the cash registers ring include popular medicines like Combiflam (anti–inflammatory and painkiller), Mox (antibiotic), Liv–52 (for liver ailments), Benadryl (cough syrup), Calpol (paracetamol) and Shelcal (calcium and Vitamin D3).
The average age of all the best selling drugs is 19.3 years, with the oldest being 22–yearold Revital, manufactured by Ranbaxy, and the youngest, Abbott’s 15–year–old Phensedyl Cough, reveals an IDFC Securities analysis of the top 10 largest–selling drugs (see table). Right on top of the list is Abbott’s anti–diabetic drug (insulin) with sales of Rs 220 crore. The brand was launched in 1992 and has registered a 18% CAGR over CY07–11.
Significantly, despite their vintage, the top 10 brands continue to grow steadily with a revenue CAGR of 14.2% over CY07–11, signifying a high brand stickiness. This is quite unlike the developed countries where the average age of top brands is typically 12–15 years, depending on the length of patent protection, analysts TOI spoke to said.
One of the reasons why old brands are still popular here is because painkillers, cough and cold medication and antibiotics are mostly prescribed by general practitioners (GPs). Smaller cities and towns continue to have GPs who prescribe these medicines routinely to people suffering from acute illnesses.
Certain medicines enjoy a strong brand legacy built over a long time, and over generations. “Old molecules still have astrong play in a cluttered, metoo market in India as they command a high level of perception built over decades. Also, the disease categories here are growing, and with more people in rural areas and small towns getting access to treatment, these drugs register a strong volume growth as well,” says Sujay Shetty, Partner PwC India.
Globally, some blockbuster medicines have made very successful switches to the overthe–counter segment after losing patent protection, and continue to clock high sales. A lot of these top–selling brands here are available over the counter, like cough and fever medications.
“People are confident about which pill to pop as they trust the company, and also because of loyalty to a particular brand. They continue to do so each time they are unwell, particularly so in cough and cold illnesses, fever, pain and for wellness,” explains Kewal Handa managing director of Pfizer India, which owns heritage brands like Corex (cough syrup), Becosules (vitamins), Gelusil (antacid) and Folvite (folic acid).
Pharma companies, meanwhile, are happy to leverage the brand equity enjoyed by these mature established brands, and reap the benefits for a long time. Says Ranjit Shahani, VC and MD of Novartis India, which owns painkiller Voveran and Calcium Sandoz in its portfolio, “With fewer new chemical entities being launched, pharma companies are trying to see how they can extend many of these strong brands as many of these still account for a large chunk of the company’s bottomline”.
In the analysis, domestic players dominate the rankings with a 65% share by owning 196 brands in the top–300 list. However, despite a limited presence in India (20% of the total domestic sales), MNCs have demonstrated better brand building capabilities and have created 92 of the top–300 brands, and five of top 10 brands sold in the country. For instance, in a bid to build the brand in untapped areas, MNCs like Novartis are running healthcare initiatives like Arogya Parivar to create awareness, accessibility and affordability, where small packs of their blockbuster medicines are sold in villages.
However, to keep breathing fresh life into the brand, companies need to constantly innovate with new combinations, attractive colours, flavours or drug delivery methods, says Handa, adding “otherwise regional brands start to nibble away the market share”.