Pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s lucrative cholesterol drug Lipitor is expected to generate approximately $3 billion in revenue by 2015, according to a recent report by AARP’s Public Policy Institute. The cholesterol medication is already the world’s biggest selling drug, peaking at annual sales of more than $9 billion. Lipitor has a lifetime sales of more than $131 billion.
The findings from this new report are surprising because Lipitor went off patent and began facing generic competition in December 2011. Normally, most pharmaceutical companies experience massive revenue losses when drug patents expire. It’s also surprising because dangerous side effects were linked to Lipitor use after the introduction of generic competition.
Lipitor has been associated with serious side effects in some users, including the development of type 2 diabetes, kidney failure and liver problems. Other mild side effects associated with Lipitor use include indigestion, stomach cramps, joint pain, throat irritation, dizziness, nausea, headaches, tiredness and diarrhea.
Such a massive amount of revenue for Lipitor despite generic competition and serious side effects can only be attributed to the effectiveness of the marketing and distribution plans of Pfizer, which includes a series of moves to protect and extend the life of Lipitor. These marketing moves overlook the drug’s dangerous risks and instead focus on making Lipitor more profitable.
According to Forbes, the aggressive marketing moves by Pfizer included:
- Increasing the price of the drug while it was still under patent.
- Advertising directly to consumers during patent years to boost usage.
- Entering into a so-called pay-to-delay deal with Ranbaxy (a producer of generics). This pushed back the initial generic introduction from June 2011 to December 2011.
- Launching a so-called authorized generic through Watson Pharmaceuticals. This shared approximately 70 percent of its Lipitor-related profits with Pfizer and decreased other generic sales.
- Providing coupons to consumers to reduce co-pays and to encourage customers to keep using the branded Lipitor and not switch to the generic versions. Pfizer also paid rebates to insurers and/or pharmacy benefit managers who kept using Lipitor.
The results of the above marketing and distribution plans helped branded Lipitor retain one-third of the market share even after the generic version was released. This goes to show that the marketing materials that consumers encounter can drown out safety considerations those consumers need to know. Just because a drug comes with a rebate or is heavily advertised doesn’t mean the drug is right for each individual consumer. Consumers should talk to their doctors about the safety risks of every drug they take because the drug could have risks that aren’t mentioned in the advertisements.
Lipitor has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes development in women who are using Lipitor.