Pfizer's post-expiry plan for Lipitor: maximize brand's sales

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Pfizer said it plans not only to keep Lipitor consumer promotions running past the brand's expiry later this month. The drugmaker also aims to put an OTC version of the megablockbuster on the market at some point.

Lipitor, the brand, still retains a good deal of its power, said Pfizer CEO Ian Read, and his company will try to leverage that brand equity, even after the first two copies of the statin see their expected launches in the US at the end of this month.

“We have worked hard to maximize the value of and best position the brand ahead of the loss of exclusivity,” said Read on the company's third-quarter earnings call yesterday. “We've put in [place] a lot…[of] very good programs to continue to support [Lipitor], to drive brand loyalty, negotiating with payers in the distribution channel, and we're trying to build strong pre- and post-plans.”

A new DTC loyalty program debuting in September, called “Lipitor For You,” included co-pay assistance and targeted patient support. That came on the heels of last December's $4 co-pay card, which was part of a patient-marketing initiative aimed at the higher-risk group. The firm has also struck deals with managed care customers to ensure their patients can remain on or begin taking branded Lipitor, said Olivier Brandicourt, president and GM of Pfizer's primary care unit.

Following those efforts, third-quarter US sales of the cholesterol reducer surprised analysts, jumping 13% (up 3% worldwide to $2.6 billion, vs. analyst consensus of $2.3 billion). Overall third-quarter company revenues rose 7%, to $17.2 billion, outpacing the Street's estimate by 5%. Reflecting the steps being taken to prevent patients and insurers from migrating to generic Lipitor, Read told investors to expect SG&A cost to rise.

The CEO also said the firm intends to try and get an OTC version of Lipitor approved, although at this point most of the focus is on shoring up the brand's performance in the rest of 2011 and the first six months of its loss of exclusivity. The company expects Watson, the "authorized" generic supplier, and Ranbaxy, the first filer, to launch Lipitor copies on Nov. 30, and multiple generics to flood the market 180 days later, after Ranbaxy's exclusivity window ends.

To slow the rate of sales decay, Pfizer has also been working in the mail-order channel to forge deals with pharmacy benefits managers, where it lowers the price of the brand to match likely generic pricing. "Even at a lower price, the product will still remain highly profitable," to the tune of additional branded sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars, at least through next May, wrote the Sanford Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson in a recent investor note.

On its own third-quarter conference call this week, Watson said it assumes Pfizer will maintain a 40% share during the six-month exclusivity period.

Gregory Gilbert, an analyst from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said maximizing a brand past loss of exclusivity to this extent would be “somewhat unprecedented.”
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