New Questions and Answers on Lipitor, the Most Prescribed Brand Name Drug in America
When patents expire on profitable brand-name prescription drugs, patients and their insurance companies usually both catch a break on the price as generic manufacturers move in with cheaper versions of the same drug. That's happening now with Lipitor, the most prescribed brand name drug in the U.S., but the usual rules on pricing may be broken.
Every day 3.5 million people take Lipitor to control cholesterol. Since its debut in 1997, Lipitor has lined the coffers of Pfizer to the tune of $81 billion. It’s the best-selling prescription drug ever, and its patent protection ended in November.
A few months ago we wrote about how pharmaceutical companies whose patents are expiring for prescription drugs sometimes go to great—and questionable—lengths to prevent other manufacturers from making a generic version that costs a lot less. So it seems counterintuitive that a member of Big Pharma would celebrate the end of a drug protection period by lowering its cost below that of a generic.
But that’s exactly what’s going on with Lipitor.
In order to maintain loyalty among those customers who otherwise might have a choice (depending on their health plan coverage) often driven by cost, Pfizer cut deals with insurers and pharmaceutical plan brokers to price Lipitor at or below the cost of generic competitors. The company has even lobbied patients directly to take Lipitor instead of other atorvastatin-based compounds.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, “It was an unprecedented effort, but the motivation was clear: When a drug loses its patent protection, more than 80 percent of its prescription sales are replaced by generics within six months…”
Often, patients are forced by their insurance plans to switch to generics when their drugs go off patent. Often, the transition is smooth, but sometimes generics are metabolized differently from the brand, and patients and their doctors prefer the status quo. Sometimes the generic is equally or more effective, and patients welcome the opportunity to choose.
Although brand and generic drugs share the chemical or biological agent responsible for addressing the problem, the other ingredients in the compound can be different, and the body can react differently. That’s why all drugs with the same primary agent don’t always have the same effect.
So how does the Lipitor situation affect you? The L.A. Times provided an excellent primer for what you need to know in a time of drug transition that will affect millions of people.
Is atorvastatin as good as Lipitor?
Pharmacologists don’t anticipate trouble with atorvastatin; Lipitor may not be much different from other statins now sold as generics. Generic statins are just as good for 95 in 100 people. They include lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol) and simvastation (Zocor).Continued on the next page