Pfizer has devised discounts and incentives for patients, insurers and companies that process prescriptions that will, at least for the next six months, make the brand name drug about as cheap as or cheaper than the generics. Pfizer also has spent tens of millions of dollars this year on marketing to keep patients on Lipitor, which lost patent protection Wednesday.
Normally when a drug's patent ends, generic rivals grab nearly all its market share in a year or less, and the original maker quietly shifts focus to its newer products.
Pfizer Inc., the world's biggest drugmaker, is not giving up that easy on the best-selling drug in history. Lipitor had peak sales of about $13 billion and still brings in nearly $11 billion a year, about a sixth of Pfizer's revenue. With no new blockbusters to fill that hole, the company is making an unprecedented push to hang onto Lipitor revenue as long as possible.
Patients seem to buy into the logic.
"If I can get the name brand at the same price or for pennies more than the generic, I have no motivation to switch," said Richard Shiekman, 59, who has been taking Lipitor for six years and credits the drug with sharply cutting his bad cholesterol. Shiekman, a wine and spirits importer from Redding, Conn., got a $4 copay card two weeks ago after his pharmacy sent an offer guaranteeing that price through December 2012.
Pfizer's strategy is cunning and could become the new norm, as most other drugmakers also face generic competition to top-selling medicines and haven't been coming up with replacements.
"People getting a month of lifesaving medicine for the price of a cup of Starbucks is ... pretty impressive," said Michael Kleinrock, a research director at data firm IMS Health.