CVS sues Pfizer over decade-old Lipitor generics deal, aiming to recoup some cash

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Pfizer reaped nearly $95 billion from Lipitor over 25 years. (Tracy Staton)

Pfizer has again been sued over a deal it struck years ago that delayed generic competition to Lipitor, still the best-selling drug of all time. The lawsuit comes from national pharmacy chain CVS, which claims the deal cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

The 101-page complaint, filed last week in federal court in New Jersey, names Pfizer and Indian drugmaker Ranbaxy Laboratories, which was bought out in 2015 by Sun Pharmaceutical.

It accuses Pfizer of striking a pay-for-delay deal with the generics maker that kept Lipitor copycats off the market for 20 months, depriving consumers of billions of dollars in savings and costing CVS hundreds of millions in extra costs. Because Ranbaxy had six months of exclusivity through its so-called first-to-file status, other generics could not come into the market until the generics maker launched its own copy.  Lipitor had 2010 U.S sales of $5.3 billion

“As a result of the delay in generic Lipitor competition brought about by Defendants’ anticompetitive scheme, in whole or in part, Plaintiff paid more to acquire atorvastatin calcium than it would have paid absent Defendants’ illegal conduct,” the CVS suit says.

RELATED: Pfizer, Ranbaxy settle Lipitor patent dispute

Pfizer in an emailed statement said: “Pfizer believes this complaint is without merit, and that the procurement and enforcement of its patents and settlement of patent litigation were proper, lawful and in line with the Supreme Court’s decision in FTC v. Actavis."

A CVS spokesperson declined to comment. equest for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Pfizer and Ranbaxy in 2008 entered into a settlement in which Ranbaxy agreed to delay the launch of its generic version of the cholesterol lowering drug until Nov. 30, 2011. It says Pfizer gave Ranbaxy “substantial financial consideration, including the settlement and effective forgiveness" of Pfizer’s claims against Ranbaxy for damages in another patent lawsuit involving Pfizer drug Accupril.

This is not the first time this arrangement has led to litigation. In 2012, Walgreen Co, Kroger Co, Safeway Inc, SuperValu and HEB Grocery filed suit accusing Pfizer and Ranbaxy of  an “overarching anticompetitive scheme” to keep generic versions of the drug off the market for 20 years.

RELATED: From old behemoth Lipitor to new king Humira: Best-selling U.S. drugs over 25 years

According to data provided by IQVIA, Lipitor was the best-selling drug from 1992 through 2017, with nearly $95 billion in total sales. Originally developed by Warner-Lambert and approved in 1996, Pfizer got the drug in its $90 billion buyout of that company in 2000. Although it wasn’t the first statin on the market, it became the gold standard, reaping billions of dollars each year for Pfizer.