PHARMACY

Downturn flattens Walgreens January sales

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD PARK, Ill. In a clear sign that even the best-run retail pharmacy operators have been staggered by a brutal economic retreat, Walgreen Co. reported an anemic sales performance in January as the continuing falloff in consumer spending flattened sales at both the pharmacy and front end.

Sales in comparable stores – those open more than a year – rose just 0.4 percent in January vs. the same period last year. Comp-store pharmacy sales were up 1.0 percent over prior-year levels, while comp-store at the front of the store actually declined 0.9 percent.

Overall, sales rose 5.3 percent over the year-earlier period, to $5.22 billion. Walgreens said calendar-day shifts also hurt comparisons in January 2009, which had one fewer weekday than the same month last year. Recent generic drug introductions, which Walgreens said took 2.2 percentage points off the comp-store pharmacy figure in January, also hurting topline comparisons.

A slide in the number of same-store prescriptions filled also reflected the dismal economy, with scripts dispensed down 2.0 percent in January. However, Walgreens attributed part of the decline to a shift by more customers to 90-day prescriptions vs. 30-day purchase patterns, which cut comp-store prescriptions dispensed by 1.6 percent.

“Comparable prescriptions filled also were hurt by 0.3 percentage points due to the switch of Zyrtec from prescription to over-the-counter status,” the company reported.

However, noted Walgreens in a statement, “January front-end sales were helped in part by sales of key beauty categories, basic necessities and consumables. Also, Zyrtec’s switch to over-the-counter status benefited front-end sales by 0.2 percentage points.”

Walgreens opened 23 stores in January, including four relocations. The chain also acquired four stores and closed one, ending the month with 7,154 locations in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam. That includes 6,658 drug stores, 586 more than a year ago.

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Urging stronger grassroots efforts, NACDS unveils RxIMPACT initiative

BY Jim Frederick

CHANDLER, Ariz. Addressing the organization’s 28th annual Regional Chain Conference, leaders of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores exhorted smaller-chain pharmacy operators to help defend the industry from burdensome patient-privacy regulations and other threats, and to rally behind a new grassroots advocacy initiative.

That initiative, called RxIMPACT, marks an acceleration of NACDS efforts to “engage members and the communities they serve by learning how to interact with lawmakers through advocacy and training programs, pharmacy tours, Capitol Hill visits and other personalized grassroots services,” noted an organization spokesperson. NACDS will hold its first RxIMPACT Day on Capitol Hill on June 16 to 17, 2009.

The need for effective and sustained grassroots lobbying won’t wait that long, however, NACDS president Steven Anderson and newly elected chairman Andy Giancamilli told regional chain members at the conference here. And among the most critical and immediate priorities is the campaign by NACDS and other advocacy groups to slow the rush in Congress to adopt new privacy provisions that industry leaders say would damage pharmacist-patient relationships, slow the adoption of health information technology and hike business costs for pharmacy retailers.

Those tougher privacy laws are contained in new legislation to spur the adoption of HIT as part of the massive economic stimulus bill now under consideration in the Senate. But given the patient confidentiality protections already in place under HIPAA regulations, those privacy provisions are ill-conceived and unnecessary, NACDS leaders told members at the conference.

“Sometimes,” Anderson asserted, “an issue is propelled by the political sails of what I call ‘faulty nomenclature.’ Faulty nomenclature is the use of politically popular terms to describe what is in reality poor policy. In this case, that term is ‘privacy.’”

Anderson reiterated NACDS’ support of HIT, but noted the unintended consequences of so-called “privacy” provisions that he said would impact the entire healthcare delivery system. “We need to assure Congress that we know privacy, and this isn’t it,” he said. “We need to let Congress know that the unintended consequences of what they are considering could actually hinder HIT adoption, stunt economic stimulus and, most importantly, harm patient care.

“Does Congress really want to stifle prescription refill reminders? That could make even worse the $177 billion in annual costs – and health consequences – from failure to take medications as prescribed,” Anderson added.

In his first address as NACDS chairman, Giancamilli appealed to members to engage directly with the political process as a new, Democratic majority in Congress grapples with the complexities of healthcare reform and technology. “The future direction of the industry hinges on the willingness of NACDS members to engage in the public policy debates of the day, since affecting our short- and long-term future is the primary reason we all choose to participate in associations like this one,” said Giancamilli, who is CEO of Katz Group North America and its U.S. subsidiary, Snyder’s Drug Stores. “But now we need even more members to engage in powering the NACDS advocacy engine.”

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Pfizer discontinues phase 3 trial of axitinib as treatment for pancreatic cancer

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK Pfizer has discontinued a phase 3 trial of a drug it was investigating as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, the drug maker announced Friday.

The company said an investigative board found no evidence that patients treated with axitinib and gemcitabine did better than those treated with gemcitabine alone. Gemcitabine is a standard treatment for pancreatic cancer.

“These results were disappointing, given the trend towards prolonged survival seen in a phase 2 study of axitinib in this extremely difficult-to-treat patient population,” Pfizer Oncology Business Unit’s SVP clinical development and medical affairs Mace Rothenberg stated. “However, we remain steadfastly committed to continued investigation of axitinib in renal cell carcinoma, where it is currently in phase 3 for second-line treatment.”

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