Pfizer's strategy for clinging to Lipitor sales

Pfizer has no intention of letting Lipitor sales go without a fight. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the drugmaker plans to use a variety of discounts and co-pay assistance programs to persuade Lipitor patients to remain Lipitor patients, rather than turning to generic versions set to hit the U.S. market Nov. 30.

There's also a move afoot to market an over-the-counter version of the megablockbuster statin drug. That, of course, will require FDA approval, which takes time, and isn't guaranteed. Merck ($MRK) tried with its cholesterol drug Mevacor--twice--and failed both times. Best case, Pfizer ($PFE) wouldn't be able to launch OTC Lipitor until after 2012, CEO Ian Read told the Journal.

In the meantime, Pfizer is focusing on programs it can control. The company has been laying the groundwork for months. It started offering co-pay discount cards to patients late last year, allowing people access to Lipitor at the Wal-Mart-worthy price of $4 per month. Those co-pay cards are here to stay.

The company has also set up a program that includes the co-pay card, a direct-delivery option, and health updates and refill reminders via email. That program continues through next year. Pfizer has negotiated some pricing deals with pharma benefits managers, to help defuse the generic-prescription imperative.

Watson Pharmaceuticals ($WPI), which has the rights to market an authorized Lipitor generic, said Pfizer intends to "compete aggressively" to keep branded Lipitor sales, especially during the first six months, when Ranbaxy Laboratories ($RBXY) has the exclusive right to sell an independent Lipitor copy. Pfizer aims to keep about 40% of the market for Lipitor and Lipitor generics, Watson's CEO said.

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