AZ sells discounted cancer drug directly to patients

Drugmakers are getting creative about capturing sales even after their products go off patent. And AstraZeneca ($AZN) is no exception: It's launching a direct-to-patients sales program for its breast cancer drug Arimidex. The company's "Arimidex Direct" plan will offer U.S. patients a month's supply at $40, with the orders fulfilled and shipped by pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts.

The cancer treatment went off patent in 2010, and AstraZeneca has seen sales plummet. For all of 2011, Arimidex brought in just $42 million in the U.S., a 91% drop from 2010 levels, Reuters reports. In 2009, its last full year without generic competition, the drug accounted for $878 million in U.S. sales, and more than $1.9 billion worldwide.

Back then, Arimidex ran around $450 at retail. So, $40 is a big comedown--but $40 is better than $0, which is what AstraZeneca gets if a patient uses, say, Mylan's ($MYL) version of Arimidex instead. “Arimidex Direct marks a first for AstraZeneca,” said Steve Davis, executive director of AZ's Foundation Brands division. “We believe it is also the first time eligible patients have a nationwide direct-to-patient option.”

You can bet that other drugmakers will keep an eye on the results, just as they have been with Pfizer's ($PFE) multi-pronged efforts to hang onto sales of its recently off-patent cholesterol drug Lipitor. In a couple of quarters, we'll see how Arimidex Direct affects the product's sales numbers.

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- read the Reuters report
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Special Report: Arimidex - Big Patent Expirations of 2010