Lilly, Pfizer & The Economies of ED


So, yesterday I posited a theory that the weak American economy might be hurting sales growth of erectile dysfunction drugs.

The drugs are so pricey and may not be covered by insurance, so I wondered whether men might be cutting their pills in half and/or not filling their expensive prescriptions if they're having to tighten their belts.

I called attention to the fact that U.S. sales of Pfizer's Viagra went down sequentially. Analysts say that happened even with a nine percent Viagra price increase during the quarter. And BMO Capital Markets' Bert Hazlett says in a research note to clients this morning that Viagra prescriptions did indeed drop by four percent in Q2.

Yesterday, GlaxoSmithKline reported sequentially flat sales of Levitra. But revenue from that impotence pill is so small ($26 million), it really doesn't register.

Then, this morning, Eli Lilly announced that second quarter sales of Cialis in the U.S. went up only $5 million from the first quarter. And here, too, the company acknowledges that it raised the price. Deutsche Bank's Barbara Ryan says total worldwide prescriptions of Cialis are up six percent so far this year. So, maybe Cialis--because it lasts a day-and-a-half versus Levitra and Viagra which last a few hours or so--is simply taking more market share. Lilly also recently launched a one-a-day version of Cialis.

In a "First on CNBC" interview on "Squawk Box" this morning new LLY CEO John Lechleiter said, "I don't think we've got a good read on whether the economy is affecting Cialis sales or not." And he mentioned something interesting that I wasn't aware of: "It's the only product overseas that is not price restricted, so it's a product most people pay for out of their pocket."

But my case may be bolstered by a Dr. Benjamin Brewer who writes "The Doctor's Office" column for The Wall Street Journal. Yesterday, in a piece about the economy's impact on healthcare he offered this anecdote: "I'm getting fewer fill (prescription) requests for E.D. drugs, like Viagra, too."

Who knew that erectile dysfunction drug prescriptions might be an economic indicator? I will resist trying to coin a term for that.