Numbers hint that Pfizer's Lipitor strategy may work

The latest figures on Lipitor sales suggest that Pfizer's ($PFE) aggressive sales strategies might—just might—be working. As The Associated Press reports, new IMS Health numbers show sales plateauing, rather than continuing their initial sickening drop. Pfizer is holding on to market share of 37%. The trend lends credence to CEO Ian Read's (photo) don't-worry comments earlier this week at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

Ranbaxy Laboratories and Watson Laboratories ($WPI) launched their generic versions of Lipitor at the beginning of December, and they quickly grabbed 59% of sales, the AP reports. That left Pfizer with about 41%. So, the branded version had lost only four more percentage points, share-wise, by the end of the month. "It's been pretty stable after the first few weeks," Michael Kleinrock, research director at the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, told the AP. "Normally you see a free fall."

Studies have shown that generic drugs take an increasingly large share of post-patent sales, and they grab share much more quickly than they once did. Pfizer's pull-out-the-stops efforts to keep Lipitor sales are an unusual attempt to buck that trend; drugmakers in the past have viewed generic competition as a lost cause. The generally-agreed-upon strategy involved a follow-up drug; price increases for the older drug as patent life wound down to transfer patients to the newer med; and a lot of finger-crossing.

So, as Kleinrock points out to the AP, other drugmakers are very, very interested in how Pfizer's efforts fare. Because if Pfizer can do it, then why couldn't its rivals do the same?

- read the AP analysis