Growth has been lacking in Italy’s non-prescription drugs sector for over a decade. “From 2010 to 2020 the average annual contraction of consumption was -3.3%,” affirmed Salvatore Butti, president at Assosalute, the association that represents non-prescription medicinal products authorized to be advertised to the public. The pandemic, unfortunately, did not help. The outbreak brought radical changes to our life habits. Social distancing as well as the use of masks and hand sanitizer significantly reduced the circulation of the influenza and parainfluenza viruses. This resulted in a strong contraction in cough and cold OTC medicines sales. While products such as cough and cold medicines experienced a massive drop in 2020, Italy experienced astoundingly high levels of growth in the sales of herbal supplements, vitamins, and minerals. Indeed, the idea that vitamins and food supplements could help against Covid-19 by strengthening people’s immune system became prevalent across Italian newspapers, encouraging people to focus even more on prevention and wellbeing. Probiotics became the most consumed dietary supplements in 2020, followed by vitamins and minerals. Today, eight out of 10 Italians consume vitamins and dietary supplements regularly.
As a response to the increased demand of immunology boosters, several companies adapted their product offering and came up with new product lines. The San Marino-based producer of food supplements Erbozeta introduced the Luxfluires line, a set of products aimed at increasing the natural defense of the immune system. Vittorio Broccoli and Maud Saillard, export sales executives, also noted a rise in demand for products used in sleeping disorders and anxiety as a consequence of the pandemic and strict lockdowns. “Our Melacron line includes sprays for fast absorption and therefore a quick benefit, but also slow-release tablets that ensure a good night’s sleep throughout the night,” they explained. The pandemic also boosted an existing trend, as Italian domestic players have a big heritage in naturally derived products. The consumption of herbal supplements, vitamins and minerals grew at a rate of 5.6% in the period 2014-2018. Traditionally, Italy has been a key geography of the nutraceutical market, thanks to the widespread awareness of the importance of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. In a context of an ageing population, Italians have also been becoming increasingly focused on disease prevention and supporting living practices to increase a healthy life span. Mastelli reflects the Italian tradition of naturally derived products; it is a 70-year-old Italian company specialized on two natural molecules with interesting regenerative features: Polynucleotide (PN) and Polydeoxyribonucleotide (PDRN). Their entire product portfolio is based on these natural substances, including injectable solutions for aesthetic medicines, orthopedics for intrarticular tissue, or products for dermatology and gynecology. “Our legacy product is Placentex, a topical cicatrizant and anti-dystrophic drug with over 50 years of history,” underlined Fabio Fiscaletti, CEO.
Background image courtesy of Pexels, Nataliya Vaitkevich
Innovation in OTCs
While the level of innovation of non-prescription medicines is lower than other lines of the pharma business, the sector constantly invests to optimize their dosages and routes of administration, increasing their effectiveness and reduce any contraindications and interactions. PharmaNutra Group, for instance, is a leading player in iron-based oral nutritional supplements and is enjoying great success thanks to its Sucrosomial technology; a unique patented delivery system developed to reduce the side effects associated with iron intake and to facilitate the absorption of this mineral. “Our technological pillar is iron, and the Sucrosomial iron technology is found under the Sideral brand, of which we derive 16 formulations adapted to different regulations in 54 countries. However, we apply this technology to other minerals like magnesium, and our UltraMag nutritional supplement is already sold in six countries,” expressed founder and president Andrea Lacorte. Similarly, Valpharma, a company present both in pharmaceutical and nutraceutical-phytotherapeutic areas, invests constantly in technological innovation. “The latest nutraceutical products of our group have built upon the knowledge developed by our technicians in the pharmaceutical field, particularly in the area of modified release, providing added value to customers”, highlighted Alessia Valducci, CEO. However, innovation in non-prescription medicines goes beyond product development, as in many cases, companies look for ways to build new relationships between patients and health providers and to improve their strategic marketing. This is the case of Harmonium Pharma, founded in 2013 with an offer for the day-to-day management of diabetes. In addition to the pharmacological therapy itself, the company is targeting an area complementary to what Big Pharma typically offers: education and prevention. Harmonium Pharma has established the brand Diabetic Corner, now present in 500 locations in Italy and 30 globally, which is a welcoming space dedicated to patients in partner pharmacies, where patients can pick up prescriptions, but also receive advice from trained staff, or even attend screening events or activities to raise awareness about the disease. To complement this territorial approach, the company also uses digital channels (a portal, an app, and active social media participation) that connect them with a very large community of patients. “Soon we will be launching a telemedicine and diagnostics tool to enable remote consultations and the opportunity to gather data on both general clinical data like blood samples, urine tests or electrocardiograms, as well as early detection of complications like retinopathy and neuropathy. Our role is certainly not to replace the endocrinologist or diabetologist but to intervene before the disease degenerates and leads to complications,” revealed Ugo Cosentino, president and founder. Montefarmaco OTC, a small but specialized player in the consumer healthcare sector, covers the main segments of the self-medication market including probiotics, ophthalmic, laxatives, painkillers and skin products. From product development to commercialization, the company innovates in line with market needs and cultural dynamics. “One of our best examples of beyond-the-product innovation is our M-Cap System packaging, a design 100% made and patented in Italy, 100% recyclable and user-friendly,” expressed Stefano Colombo, general manager.
Supporting the Italian National Health System
The pandemic has put in the spotlight many underlying challenges in the Italian healthcare system, including an ageing population, increasing chronicity and an overstrained National Health budget. In this context, the need to establish a more sustainable model has become evident, and to a certain extent, the self-medication sector could help relieve some pressure from the system. In the words of Assosalute’s president: “We can define new models of collaboration between General Practitioners as the first reference points for minor ailments, thus supporting individuals’ health and, potentially, the healthcare system’s sustainability, and actively contribute to the citizen empowerment and education towards the correct use of medicines.”
Images courtesy of PharmaNutra Group