With generics horde advancing, Pfizer gives up Lipitor push

When Lipitor's first copycats were unleashed, Pfizer manned the battlements. With a combination of discounts, coupons and payer contracts, the drugmaker ($PFE) aimed to protect market share as long as possible. The goal: keep 40% of the market, at least until 180-day generic exclusivity expired and a horde of other Lipitor generics hit.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, that battle is over. With the horde now on the horizon--Ranbaxy Laboratories' exclusivity expires at the end of this month--Pfizer is packing up its discounted payer contracts. Lipitor sales reps have packed in their rolling cases. And DTC print advertising is finito.

Brand-name drugs take their biggest hit after 180-day exclusivity expires and increased competition pushes prices downward. And that's what Lipitor faces as of June 1. No surprise, then, that Pfizer chose to pull back now.

That's not to say Pfizer didn't benefit from its marketing push. It clung to market share in the high 30s as recently as January, and it brought in $383 million in domestic sales for the first quarter, making it the company's third best-selling drug in the U.S. That was a 71% drop year over year, but $383 million isn't insignificant; the Journal says Pfizer spent $87 million promoting the drug post-patent.

In fact, Pfizer's approach will probably inspire other companies facing generic rivals to their blockbuster products. "It's helped them hang on to additional volume compared to other generic erosions," Ben Weintraub, of Wolters Kluwer's inThought, tells the WSJ. We could soon find out: Sanofi ($SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) lose patent protection for their megablockbuster Plavix later this month.

- read the WSJ story