Lipitor patent expires, Sen. Kohl raises questions about Pfizer - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Lipitor patent expires, Sen. Kohl raises questions about Pfizer

(WAOW) -- The biggest selling prescription drug of all time is going generic. Pfizer's patent on the cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor, has expired.

Lipitor brings in almost $11 billion a year. Now, that money will be available for other companies.

"In order for a drug company to be able to research drugs, they have to be able to have an amount of time to make money to get their research money back because it takes a ton of money to bring drugs to market," said Merrill Hometown Pharmacy manager Jim Becker.

Now that the patent has expired, the FDA approved a generic form of the drug by Ranbaxy, a company based in India. Pharmacists said now that there's a generic version, patients will likely choose the cheaper option.

"The brand name drug sales go down and the generic sales go up," said Becker. "In most cases, the brand-name drug sales dry up because eventually the generic drug prices become a lot cheaper."

To fight this trend, Lipitor is offering discounts and incentives, trying to make their product less expensive.

"Our intent is to offer Lipitor to patients and payers at or below the cost of generic during the 180-day exclusivity period," said Pfizer spokesman MacKay Jimeson. "As a result, patients will receive Lipitor at a co-pay comparable to generic."

But three U.S. senators, including Wisconsin's Herb Kohl, are raising a red flag. They claim Pfizer is planning to offer discounts to other companies that process prescriptions if they block generic versions of Lipitor.

"We hope that scrutiny into these business practices will restore fairness and open the gates to affordable prescription drug choices and tremendous cost savings," said Senator Kohl.

But the Pfizer spokesman said some in Washington don't have the full story.

"The senator's questions are based upon an early article written by the New York Times that contained incomplete and incorrect information about our Lipitor program," said Jimeson.

The senators want a response within the next three weeks. Pfizer officials said there is nothing wrong with their business plan.

The drug company Ranbaxy has exclusive rights to market a generic version of Lipitor for the next six months. After that, other companies can jump into the market. Pharmacists said that would drive down prices even more.

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