Pfizer is nursing a fat lip(itor)

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Pfizer s exclusive right to sell the blockbuster drug Lipitor (atorvastatin) ended yesterday. With the expiration of Pfizer s patent, the door is now open for generics to enter the market. Given that Lipitor earned $13 billion at its peak, and that 3 million Americans currently take the cholesterol-lowering drug, that market is enormous.

Two generic versions of Lipitor, which lowers the levels of bad LDL cholesterol and helps lower heart attack and stroke risk, are set to go on the market. One, produced by Weston Pharmaceuticals Inc, is an authorized generic, which will be made by Pfizer, to whom about 70 percent of sales will go. The other, produced by the Indian pharmaceutical company Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, has just been approved for sale in the U.S, following questions about quality control in some Indian laboratories. Other generics will become available after another six months.

David Simmons, Pfizer s president of emerging markets and established products, estimates that over one-third of patients who are now taking Lipitor will choose to stay with the brand rather than switch to a generic substitute. And Pfizer is doing whatever it can to keep this number as high as possible. The company is offering a discount card to patients that will cover all but $4 of their Lipitor co-payment, and has reached a variety of deals that will keep the price of Lipitor at a level comparable to that of generics. They are also emphasizing to patients the value of staying on the branded drug that they know and trust, rather than switching to an unknown generic.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom disagrees, however, with one strategy that Pfizer is considering: marketing Lipitor as an over-the-counter drug. To read his thoughts on the matter, check out his most recent blog post on Medical Progress Today.