Sunday’s New York Times highlights the upcoming war between Pfizer and the American Health Care System. Lipitor, the company’s flagship cholesterol lowering drug, will lose its patent protection sometime in 2010 or 2011. That’s bad news for Pfizer becasue Lipitor is the number one prescription drug in America. Generic versions of the drug will provide an equally effective, low cost alternative to the pricey brand name drug and slash profits at the pharmaceutical giant.
The Lipitor battle has become a test of the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to defend name brands, even as insurers, patients and doctors seek to whittle the nation’s $270 billion annual prescription drug bill by using generic alternatives whenever possible.
Many doctors have come to see simvastatin [This is the low-cost generic version of Zocor] as a viable substitute for Lipitor. Studies show that at commonly prescribed doses Lipitor and simvastatin are equally effective at reducing LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol.
A big difference is that Lipitor costs $2.50 to $3 a day, while simvastatin sells for 75 cents to $1 a day at most retail pharmacies, and as little as 10 cents a day at discount pharmacies like Costco’s.
Dr. Mark Fendrick, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a specialist in health care economics, notes that for patients with extremely high cholesterol, Lipitor may be a better choice. An 80-milligram daily dose of Lipitor, the top dose, can reduce cholesterol by up to 60 percent, compared with about 50 percent for an 80-milligram dose of simvastatin, also the top dose.
But most patients with moderately high cholesterol take 10 or 20 milligrams of Lipitor a day, and can get comparable benefit from 40 or 80 milligrams of simvastatin, Dr. Fendrick said.
I was interested to read the quotes from Dr. Mark Fendrick because we went to medical school together in the mid 1980’s.
Here is a quote from Dr, Fendrick that surely raised hackles at Big Pharma…
“We believe that some people should get their drugs for free, and a small class of people should even be paid to take them.”