An emerging markets tale, Pfizer-style

For a window into Big Pharma's new push into emerging markets, check out Pfizer and its Venezuelan operations. The world's largest drugmaker is now marketing to some of the world's poorest citizens, via a new program that sends sales reps into poverty-ridden neighborhoods. The Wall Street Journal tags along with one rep, who has to change his walking routes and swap sample bags to foil potential drug burglars.

So far, the strategy appears to be working: Pfizer's market share has tripled to 18 percent in one neighborhood since the program launched in 2007. One doctor in that Caracas slum has increased his Pfizer-drug scrips by 40 percent. And this comes despite the fact that even at cut-rate developing-world prices, Pfizer's branded meds are much more expensive than generic knockoffs.

Apparently, there's a cultural distrust of generic meds: Brand names are considered better, despite or even because of the price. "According to the price, they probably work better," said one patient, who uses Lipitor rather than generic versions of the drug that are available at less than half the cost--despite the fact that he's only paid about $750 a month. Plus, Pfizer can work the growing problem of counterfeit meds to its advantage, too.

Add to this the fact that the Pfizer rep who hoofs it all over the area is paid $930 to $1,800 a month depending on commissions. That's a small fraction of his U.S. counterpart's salary. So not only is the drugmaker growing sales, it's doing so at a lower cost. No wonder the developing world looks so good.

- read the WSJ story