Maker of Lipitor cites dubious study to keep patients from generic

We all know that medical care and especially drug costs are crazy high in the US. We’ve probably all heard the many commercials that recommend jumping from name-brand drugs to generic drugs. However, not all drug manufacturers find that to be a good idea. In an attempt to protect the big-money drug LipitorTM, representatives from Pfizer are citing a widely questioned study that indicates patients on generic cholesterol-blocker simvastatin die more often and have more heart attacks.

While simvastatin is not a generic equivalent for LipitorTM, it is a generic version of competing cholesterol-blocker ZocorTM. Studies other than the one Pfizer is referring to show that at the most commonly prescribed doses of LipitorTM, simvastatin is equally effective for most patients. Naturally, Pfizer representatives disagree.

The company has mounted a campaign that includes advertisements, lobbying efforts and a paid speaking tour by a former secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Pfizer is also promoting a study – whose findings many experts are questioning – that concluded that British patients who switched to simvastatin had more heart attacks and deaths than those who remained on Lipitor.

Naturally, the mighty dollar plays in here. And I do believe Pfizer has not only a right, but a duty to shareholders to try protecting such a big funding source. However, I think reliable science needs to be behind any claims used to try swaying opinions, and apparently the study in question may not be reliable science. We’ll just have to see how it turns out, I suppose.

I also take issue with the following claim from a Pfizer senior vice president:

But Pfizer argues that Lipitor is the most effective statin and that patients who are having good results with it are not well-served by moving to another drug.

“The only reason one would want to switch from one drug to another is for the benefit of the patient’s health,” said Dr. Michael Berelowitz, senior vice president for worldwide medical affairs for Pfizer.

Well, ummm, no. Another reason to switch is if the alternative is equally effective and less expensive for the consumer. And while ultimately effectiveness is the real question in this debate, making specious claims is no way to fight the battle. And there’s a damn good reason for this battle, from Pfizer’s point-of-view.

Lipitor’s share of the cholesterol-lowering drug market in this country has ebbed to 30 percent, down from 40 percent 18 months ago, when simvastatin was available only as name-brand Zocor – at prices that were higher than Lipitor’s.

That’s bottom line hurting, especially when you consider that statins (the drug class into which ZocorTM, LipitorTM, simvastatin, and other cholesterol-lowering drugs fall) accounts for nearly 10% of the $270 billion Americans spend on drugs each year. Anything that cuts statin expenditures can help in a very big way in cutting our drug-spending, but can also really hurt incomes of non-generic statin producers.

I don’t want Pfizer to be hurt financially, because I realize the hefty price of research and development of effective drugs. But citing a study that contradicts all other similar studies calls for significant proof given the number of other studies to date. So far, Pfizer has not shown sufficient proof.

[tags]Lipitor, Statin drugs, Zocor, simvastatin, Drugs, Cholesterol[/tags]