Faced with losing its lucrative Lipitor patent today, Pfizer Inc. is bracing for competition from generic versions of the best-selling cholesterol drugs. But the drug maker hasn’t been sitting idly by waiting for its patent to expire, and in recent months has pursued an aggressive strategy to hold on to its Lipitor profits.
According to a report from CNN, More than 17 million people have been prescribed Lipitor, with U.S. sales alone adding up to $5 billion. Lipitor accounts for nearly a quarter of Pfizer’s sales every year. According to a Reuters report, Pfizer believes its Lipitor strategies could help it preserve a third of its U.S. market share.
To preserve its Lipitor profits, Pfizer has struck some unique deals with insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, and even the makers of generic Lipitor competitors, according to a report from The New York Times. Under some of the agreements, starting Thursday, pharmacies will be required to reject generic Lipitor prescriptions for the next six months. The company has also struck deals with mail-order services, which account for 40 percent of Lipitor sales, to block generics during the same period. In return, Pfizer will provide rebates that will bring the price of Lipitor in line with generics, and possibly even lower.
Other Pfizer maneuvers include the offer of a discount card that allows insured patients to buy Lipitor for $4 a month, far below the $25 average copayment for a preferred brand-name drug, according to the Associated Press. The company is also paying pharmacies to mail the discount cards to Lipitor patients.
Right now, only two generic companies have rights to market generic Lipitor. India’s Ranbaxy Laboratories is one, but it has issues with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and it’s unclear when it will be ready to ship its product. The other is New Jersey-based Watson Pharmaceuticals. But according to The New York Times, Watson has to give about 70 percent of its profits to Pfizer.
Pfizer’s strategies, while they may be good for its bottom line, do have some worried, especially because if successful, they could become a new norm for the industry.
“Pfizer’s tactic of dressing up as a generics company is pulling the rug under the incentive system created to foster the development of generic drugs,” David A. Balto, a lawyer for some generic makers and a former policy director for the Federal Trade Commission, told the Times.
According to the Associated Press, the independent pharmacists’ group, Pharmacists United for Truth and Transparency (PUTT), has raised alarms that the rebate deals will stick plan sponsors — which in the cases of Medicare and Medicaid, includes the U.S. taxpayer — with higher costs than for generics.
Dave Marley, a pharmacist and spokesman for PUTT, told Forbes magazine that he estimates plan sponsors will pay $35 more per prescription for Lipitor than they would for generic Atorvastatin. “Roughly 70 million Lipitor prescriptions were filled last year. Plan sponsors need to evaluate their contracts to see how much, if any, of the Lipitor rebate money they receive. It is unlikely they will receive any of it.”