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Specialty Rx: a bright spot in a slowing market

BY Jim Frederick

With total U.S. pharmaceutical sales rising just 3.8 percent last year, bio-engineered and highly specialized medicines costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are the bright spot in a slowing market for branded drugs. And drug chains, led by Walgreens, are doing more to tap into these revolutionary treatments.

“Last year, we saw a continuing shift away from primary care classes to biotech and specialist-driven therapies, which grew at a 9 percent and 10 percent pace, respectively,” said Murray Aitken, senior vice president at IMS Health.

Summing up last year’s performance, IMS vice president of industry relations Doug Long noted, “Eighty-seven percent of the growth is coming from specialty-driven products, meaning prescriptions initiated by specialists. Now, we have almost as many blockbuster specialty products as we do blockbuster primary care [products].”

Specialty drug revenues grew roughly 13 percent in 2007, topped only by the growth of biotech drugs—up roughly 18 percent—and generics.

“The U.S. pharmaceutical market has entered a new era—one characterized by more modest growth due to the continuing impact of new generics products, fewer and more narrowly indicated novel medications and closer scrutiny of safety issues,” Aitken said.

No company is more determined to pursue opportunities in high-tech pharmacy services than Walgreens, which is rapidly building, largely through acquisition, a national presence in the dispensing and administering of highly specialized and expensive medications to treat HIV/AIDS, cancer, transplant rejection, infertility and other conditions requiring a higher level of professional intervention with patients and/or home infusion services. Through its managed care division, Walgreens Health Services, the company is acquiring “best of breed” specialty pharmacy businesses that company leaders said will make Walgreens a complete pharmacy service provider.

“Our goal is to marry WHS services to our thousands of pharmacy counters,” the company reported. “We want to say ‘yes’ to every prescription, from the common antibiotic to specialty drugs, home infusion, oxygen, durable medical equipment and prescriptions for assisted-care residents.”

That integration of capabilities means being able to offer patients and their healthcare plans everything from basic counseling, disease-management and medication therapy management, to the most advanced and specialized medication therapy at one of the chain’s specialty pharmacy centers.

To that end, Walgreens has aggressively stalked the specialty pharmacy market, acquiring such big niche players as Option Care, Medmark, Schraft’s and SeniorMed. That strategy has made Walgreens the third- or fourth-largest specialty pharmacy provider in the country, and the largest home infusion provider.

Walgreens’ Specialty Pharmacy division has also launched a new Web site for patients with HIV/AIDS, at www.HIV.Walgreens.com. The site provides information on the disease to patients and caregivers, and is intended to complement the company’s existing support services for HIV/AIDS patients, according to Walgreens.

“It gives patients the opportunity to get expert advice from an HIV-trained pharmacist in the comfort and privacy of their homes,” the company noted. “Patients and caregivers can also access a list of HIV-focused Walgreens pharmacy locations.”

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Walgreens donates food, supplies as new storms target Gulf, Southeast

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD, Ill. Walgreens has sent truckloads of food, water and emergency supplies to Baton Rouge, La., to aid with continuing Hurricane Gustav relief efforts.

Among the necessities shipped to hard-hit residents: water, trail mix, granola bars and other snack items, along with infant formula and diapers. Walgreens reports it is also gathering supplies to place on standby for a swift response to new emergency requests across the nation’s southeast coast with the expected arrival of Tropical Storm Hanna this weekend and Hurricane Ike next week.

“We’ll direct critical resources to communities in need,” said Walgreens director of community affairs John Gremer. “We’re on alert, and we’ll be ready to help wherever we can.”

The company notes there is still “tremendous need in many Baton Rouge communities,” which were among the hardest hit by Gustav. “Thousands remain without electricity, and food and water are still in high demand,” the company reports.

Another priority is getting any stores that were closed due to the storm back open quickly, according to the chain. As of Friday morning, Walgreens reported, “all but one of Walgreens’ 15 Baton Rouge stores are open. Across the Gulf Coast region, only nine remain closed down from 69 closed immediately following the storm.”

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Rite Aid donates $44,500-plus in supplies for Gustav evacuees

BY Michael Johnsen

CAMP HILL, Pa. To further assist evacuees of Hurricane Gustav, The Rite Aid Foundation is donating more than $44,500 worth of supplies including water, snacks, sunscreen, hand sanitizer and other personal hygiene products as requested by the Louisiana Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross to be distributed at shelters for evacuees, the Foundation announced Friday

“Throughout the Gulf Coast, widespread flooding and violent wind damage have created an urgent need for disaster support,” stated Jeff Towers, chief development officer at the American Red Cross. “Rite Aid generously responded to this need through in-kind and financial support to help the Red Cross provide food, shelter and counseling to Gulf Coast communities during this hurricane season.”

Earlier this week, The Rite Aid Foundation made a $75,000 donation to the American Red Cross to help the victims, families and communities affected by Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. A relief team of Rite Aid associates, including store cashiers and pharmacists, have traveled from Tennessee and unaffected areas of Louisiana and Alabama to help stores that have been impacted and to help reopen additional stores.

“One of Rite Aid’s core values is to be caring neighbors in the communities we serve, and we are happy to work with the American Red Cross to help the evacuees of Hurricane Gustav,” commented Mike Seesholtz, Rite Aid regional vice president for Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. “Our associates have been amazing in their commitment to do whatever they can to help the victims of Hurricane Gustav.”

Residents displaced by the hurricane can visit any open Rite Aid for their prescriptions because the company’s satellite-linked computer network assures a complete customer prescription history at any Rite Aid store. Because of the state of emergency, Rite Aid pharmacies also can access prescription information for patients who do not normally get their prescriptions at Rite Aid.

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