Teva nabs $23M with risky U.K. launch of Lipitor copy

Did Teva Pharmaceutical Industries jump the gun with its generic version of Lipitor? Or will its early launch prove to be an astute business move? The Financial Times reports Teva sold as much as $23 million worth of copycat Lipitor in the U.K. just last month--even though Pfizer's patent on the drug hasn't officially expired.

Citing sources, the paper says Teva shipped more than two months' stock of its generic Lipitor--a.k.a. atorvastatin--in June, selling it at 15 percent less than the branded drug's previous price. The Israeli company launched those 700,000-odd packages June 20, before Pfizer went to court seeking an injunction to block Teva's generic.

And Pfizer last week won that injunction, stopping Teva's shipments for the time being. Pfizer also took that fight another step, warning distributors and pharmacies not to sell the generic drug. The court is due to take up the case July 11.

Nonetheless, some damage has been done, according to the FT. Teva's large shipments went to two wholesalers, AAH and Phoenix, which quickly sold them off to pharmacies. And Teva may have achieved its aim: Being first to get its foot in the door of the generic Lipitor market. FT says patients who end up with these early packages may well end up as long-term Teva customers.

It's a gamble for Teva, but at least in public, the generics maker is unrepentant. "We feel strongly that we are acting in the interests of sustainable and affordable healthcare," Teva said in a statement (as quoted by the FT). "We maintain our view that the patent protection in place for Lipitor is invalid; and we intend to win the case and resume supply as soon as possible."

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