Generic Zocor chips away at Lipitor's statin market dominance

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Pfizer chairman Jeff Kindler said during last week's Bear Stearns Healthcare Conference that the company expects Lipitor sales to be flat or down up to 5% on last year's numbers due to competition from generic Zocor (simvastatin).

According to Bear Stearns/IMS Health data, Lipitor sales were down 6% for the first half of the year over the same period in 2006.

“TRxs continue to decline sequentially,” wrote Bear Stearns analyst John Boris in a Sept. 17 research note. “Year over year trends are negative, with 4-week average TRx growth of -13%. Lipitor weakness is driven by a deceleration in all doses.”

Although Lipitor has enjoyed profit every year since its launch, added Diego Garzon, analyst at pharmaceutical market intelligence firm Millennium Research Group, “Pfizer is realizing now that this is not going to continue,” he says.

“I think the aggressive erosion of the statin market has taken many people by surprise,” Garzon told MM&M. “One of the main reasons is that cost conscious government and private payers are going to look to try and save money any way they can and, obviously, statins are going to be dead center on their list.” Since Pfizer's discontinuation of torcetrapib's development in December 2006 Pfizer is left without another “blockbuster” dyslipidemia drug its pipeline, Garzon explains.

“Torcetrapib had been earmarked for $20 billion dollars but they had to cancel plans for that,” Garzon adds. “When you combine that with Lipitor coming off patent and the disappointment of Caduet, which was supposed to save them from their expiration of Norvasc, Pfizer is trying to hang on.”

Meanwhile, the scenario positions Merck to pick up where Pfizer failed in targeting high-density lipoprotein (HDL), commonly referred to as the "good cholesterol."

Merck is developing a product using the HDL-boosting agent niacin, in combination with the novel drug laropiprant, to prevent the flushing side effect common with niacin use that leads to patient noncompliance.

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