Prescriptions drugs could come down in price as soon as this fall. Patents on well known—and costly prescription drugs will begin to expire, making way for generic equivalents. Most notably, Pfizer’s Lipitor, the widely used cholesterol drug, 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 ten best-selling drugs in the United States are expected to have generic forms 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.

We will also likely see a major publicity and marketing campaign to help inform people of the safety of generics and dispel misconceptions that they are lesser forms of the the original. In fact, generic drugs are required by the FDA to be identical to their brand name counterpart. The reason sell for so much less is because the companies that make generic drugs do not incur any of the expenses associated with research and development needed to bring a new drug to market—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.

Naturally, pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer will 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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