…instead of focusing on innovation. I’ve written about Pfizer and Lipitor a few times in the last year. Now, Pfizer has found a way to extend its patent on Lipitor, a very profitable drug used in the management of heart disease and high cholesterol.
Lipitor’s a great drug. It treats high cholesterol very effectively, and is effective as both primary and secondary prevention for cardiovascular disease (there is much more to the story, but that’s it in a nutshell). It’s also costs about $120.00 for a month of therapy, and therapy is usually life-long.
In contrast, simvastatin, a generic drug, is also effective for primary and secondary prevention (once again, it’s a bit more complicated than that) but is generic and costs between $2.00 and $20.00 per month of therapy.
Not all statins are created equal. Some have better data in primary or secondary prevention, in coronary artery plaque regression, in reduction of mortality, stroke prevention, side-effect profile…you get the idea.
What we do know is that statins save lives, and cheap statins probably save lives just as well as expensive ones.
Pfizer suffered a big setback last year. A trial of a new type of cholesterol medication failed badly (link to my old blog above). Drug development is risky business. But clinging to an old drug by squeezing more time out of a patent is doomed to fail. Insurance companies put a lot of pressure on doctors and patients to prescribe generic alternatives where appropriate, and in the era of high deductibles, patients want the cheaper drug.
Hopefully, companies like Pfizer will invest more resources in drug discovery and development, and let the market do away with it’s enormous Lipitor profits. After all, if you can keep a patent forever, what use is looking for new drugs?
Primary prevention: preventing a first incident (first heart attack, stroke, etc.)
Secondary prevention: preventing further events in established disease (subsequent heart attacks, strokes, etc.)