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Pfizer taps brand loyalty to protect Lipitor from generics

Pharma firm launches series of measures aimed at encouraging prescribers and patients to stick with its biggest selling drug as its US patent expiry hits
With patent protection for Pfizer's top-selling cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (atorvastatin) due to expire in the US today, the company has implemented a raft of initiatives to stem the loss of market share to generic rivals.

The US accounts for around 55 per cent of the $10.7bn in worldwide Lipitor sales, so Pfizer has embarked on a series of measures aimed at encouraging prescribers and patients to stick with its own brand.

The company has signed a series of discounting deals with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and health insurers, including reduced co-pays for Pfizer's drug, and agreements for pharmacies to substitute credit for generic atorvastatin with discounted Lipitor, according to advocacy group Pharmacists United for Truth and Transparency.

Pfizer has also taken the unusual step of setting up its own mail-order service to supply Lipitor, targeting patients who have been taking Lipitor for years and are reluctant to switch to a different, non-branded version.

Efforts to capitalise on brand loyalty and an emotional attachment to a product are not common in the prescription pharmaceutical industry unlike other sectors such as fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), with pharma companies traditionally competing on clinical and product-related attributes and price.

Brand loyalty does play a key role with over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, however, and if Pfizer is able to use its Lipitor brand as a competitive advantage it could usher in a new defensive strategy for prescription brand owners against their generic rivals. It is also considering launching an OTC version of Lipitor.

Meanwhile, Pfizer's defensive strategies may be aided by problems at Daiichi Sankyo subsidiary Ranbaxy Laboratories, which has first-to-file, six-month exclusivity for generic atorvastatin in the US.

An ongoing federal investigation into compliance at its manufacturing facilities have raised questions about Ranbaxy's ability to bring its copycat version of atorvastatin to market on schedule, and it has still to receive manufacturing approval from the FDA.

A licensed generic version from Watson Pharmaceuticals will reach the market later today, but Pfizer will get the lion's share of profits from that product. Moreover, its own discounts may undercut the generics, at least until the market is opened up for more widespread competition in six months' time.

In Europe, Pfizer extended the drug's patent protection by six months to May 2012, with the announcement of new paediatric data enabling the launch of a chewable grape-flavoured version of Lipitor for children in the EU by November 2011.

Generic versions of the drug are already available in certain countries including Spain, Brazil and Mexico, with Lipitor's second quarter sales down from $2.81bn in 2010 to $2.59bn in 2011.

30th November 2011

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