Prescription Patents Expiring Soon

This fall, prescriptions may start getting cheaper. Patents on some expensive and most prescribed drugs will begin to expire, opening the door for generic equivalents. Most notably, Lipitor, a widely used cholesterol drug made by Pfizer, will lose its patent protection November 2011. Lipitor is the “top-selling drug of all time, generating more than $9 billion in U.S. sales at one point in its history,” and credited with improving cardiovascular health of many Americans. Currently users of Lipitor can pay as much as $25-$40 per month even with health insurance–a generic version would knock that down to about $4 for one month’s supply.

Six of the top ten best-selling drugs are expected to be available in generic form over the next two years, including Lipitor,(cholesterol treatment), Actos, (diabetes) and Plavix, (reduces blood clots after surgery). From 2011 to 2015, about $100 billion in annual brand-name drug sales will be at risk for generic competition. Savings for consumers could be as much as 90% according some analysts.

Also expected is a major publicity campaign to help educate people on the safety of generics. Generic drugs are required by the FDA to be identical to their brand name counterpart. The reason they can sell for much less is because the companies that make generic drugs do not shoulder the costs of research and development needed to bring out a new drug—which can sometimes be hundreds of millions of dollars. The generic drug manufacturers are only replicating the final product long after trials and research has been completed.

Companies like Pfizer that produce the successful brand names drugs try to delay generic competition as long as they can. Patents typically last 20 years but sometimes “patent extenders” come into play. The company will develop a slightly different version of the original drug, such as an “extended-release” version, or they will initiate patent litigation which can also delay the generic availability. Major drug companies want to hold on their patents, arguing that “they have 10 years or less to market the product exclusively due to the many years it takes to discover, research and develop the drug before it is approved by the FDA.” (Orlando Sentinel)

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