Pfizer Launches Campaign To Warn Users Away From Generic Competitor

Pfizer is in panic mode about its rapid decline in Lipitor sales—in the last 18 months, it has dropped from 40% of the market for cholesterol-lowering drugs to 30%, and likely to drop further—so it’s launched a big media-blitz to convince people not to switch to simvastatin, the generic version of its name-brand competitor, Zocor. Zocor was more expensive than Lipitor, so Pfizer had nothing to worry about for years—but then Zocor lost its patent protection last year, and now doctors are switching patients from Lipitor over to Zocor’s generic twin to save money.

One of strongest claims Pfizer is making is that patients who switch have a higher risk of death, but the in-house study they cite is being criticized by doctors:

But independent researchers say that limitations in the study, which was conducted by Pfizer’s own researchers, gives it little predictive power about what will happen to patients who take simvastatin instead of Lipitor. And they say the study is far less important than large clinical trials that have shown simvastatin’s effectiveness at reducing cholesterol.

Pfizer is also running print and broadcast ads that skirt the details by simply claiming that not all cholesterol-lowering drugs are the same, and that there is no generic version of Lipitor—both statements of fact, but possibly irrelevant for many patients who would do just fine on generic Zocor.

Of course, your doctor will know better than a blog whether you should switch:

For patients with extremely high cholesterol, Lipitor may be a better choice. An 80-milligram daily dose of Lipitor, the top dose, can reduce cholesterol by up to 60 percent, compared with about 50 percent for an 80-milligram dose of simvastatin, also the top dose.”

“Maker of Lipitor Digs In to Fight Generic Rival” [New York Times]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Parting says:

    It’s the same drug, no?
    So it has the same chemical composition?
    Is it really the same stuff under different label?
    (ex. Advil and Motrin are ibuprofen, one isn’t more effective then the other.)

  2. Buran says:

    “Waaah. We’re going to lose our shirts when we lose our government-imposed monopoly. Instead of lowering prices, we’re going to spread FUD. Waaaah.”

  3. woertink says:

    No, they are different compounds but they do inhibit the same protein target. However because they are different compounds the effectiveness and side effects can be different.

  4. Buran says:

    @chouchou: The active ingredient is the same, so in theory it shouldn’t matter, but there may be small variances due to different inactive ingredients.

  5. woertink says:

    @Buran: Lipitor and Zocor have different active ingredients. Zocor is now off patent and so can be bought generically which is cheaper than Zocor and Lipitor.

  6. Buran says:

    @woertink: Yes – I was referring to brand name vs. generic of that same drug. Sorry – thought that was what was being asked.

  7. amoeba says:

    Pfizer just wants the patients money. I went with my mother to visit her physician and he prescribed her Zocor. Her pharmacist gave her “Simvastatin”. I am talking about 6 months ago. Just last week she had her test and her cholesterol is improving. Even though my mom seem to be in great shape, her cholesterol is high. Anyway, I don’t see why Pfizer wants to take out of the market generics, it is proved that generics work the same or better than brand-name drugs. It makes me upset!

  8. bohemian says:

    There are a bunch of newer types of drugs that are set to expire at the end of this year, thus allowing generics. Most of the ones I noticed were in allergy medications. Zyrtec is set to expire in December. Right now the cash price for Zyrtec is about $80. for 30 days worth. The generic version that it OTC in Canada is $12 for 30 days.

    When some of the nasal and inhaled steroids start expiring you will see the same panic attempts from the drug companies.

    My guess is there will be new allergy drugs coming out or more scare tactics.

  9. DrGirlfriend says:

    Pfizer wants generics out because it cuts into their profit margin. It’s not about your health, it’s about your wallet.

  10. woertink says:

    About 2 years ago there was a study directly comparing Lipitor to Zocor. The article was published in JAMA. It suggested that the two drugs had about the same effectiveness at preventing death but Lipitor was slightly better at preventing minor cardiovascular problems. So it looks like Lipitor is a little bit better but not by much. It is a personal decision if the small improved benefit is worth the significant cost increase.

    The article is in JAMA. 2005; Vol. 294:2437-2445


  11. TechnoDestructo says:


    No, read it again, it’s better. “Waaah. We’re going to lose our shirts when OUR COMPETITORS lose THEIR government-imposed monopoly.”

    What I really love is people (like my dad) who seem to think that patents ought to last forever because “What, they shouldn’t be allowed to make money off their invention?” and seem to think coming down in favor of the generic drug makers means you’re some kind of socialist or something. Having no idea that this shit is in the constitution…not only the idea of patent protection, but the fact that it should expire. Yeah, our founding fathers, what a bunch of goddamn pinkos.

  12. amoeba says:

    @TechnoDestructo: if you think that the people who choose generic over brand-name drugs are SOCIALIST, well in that case, I am one.

  13. kc-guy says:

    $6/day for Lamictal, an anti-seizure drug.

    The generic has been in Canada for years…until then, I lose.

  14. Buran says:

    @amoeba: Yeah, buh? It’s socialist now to seek the best possible deal? Why should I pay for brand name marketing bullshit when the generic is just as good? Check out a grocery store sometime and see just how many generic brands are on the shelf. There’s a reason for that…

    Papers please, Comrade.

  15. Buran says:

    @TechnoDestructo: What competitors’ monopoly is that? It’s the big drug companies who have the monopoly and are now whining because they’re losing it.

    I find this hilarious. They went into the deal knowing this would happen. If you don’t want this to happen, don’t file a patent and keep your invention secret (since telling others how it works is part of the patent deal) and hope no one reverse engineers you and undercuts you.

    They want their cake and to eat it too.

  16. amoeba says:

    @Buran: I think you like to argue with people without reading what we discuss. In this case, you didn’t get what I said. SO I suggest to re-read my reply to ” TECHNODESTRUCTO ” I said very clearly and for you I will write it as I will explain to a toddler, If people who choose generics are socialist, in that case I am a socialist. do not reply my comment, who knows what else you are going to say.

  17. BigNutty says:

    I had to read this twice to make sure what Pfizer was concerned about. I know understand and agree with Pfizer on certain points. Regardless if two comparable drugs are for the same medical condition, they are in fact different.

    Only a generic of the exact same drug you were taking is exactly the same. In this case, you are switching to a complety different medication, regardless of the similar composition.

    For Pfizer to claim that if you switch to the generic of their competitors drug that death could be a possibility seems very overboard without conclusive proof and seems a scare tactic to stop doctors from switching patients over to the cheaper alternative.

    How would you like to hear that side effect after your doctor switched you over.

  18. camille_javal says:

    Aw, I get a warm feeling in my heart when I see the genesis of a Lanham Act 43(a) claim at its very first moment.

    (i.e., if Pfizer’s running this shit when the generic comes out, the generic manufacturer will get together a team of lawyers and survey experts and sue the shit out of them. Couldn’t happen to a nicer company.)

  19. swalve says:

    Just ’cause it’s in the Constitution doesn’t mean it isn’t socialist. Taking one entity’s property for the benefit of society is socialist. Phizer spent a lot of money developing the drug.

    Also, I have used generic versions of a drug that didn’t work as well. Same dosage, same drug, different results. One specifically was a Jumbo-Pak of ibuprofen from Cosco. Does not work as well as Advil.

  20. GoBobbyGo says:

    One other thing Pfizer ought to be worried about is that BCBS has removed Lipitor from its formulary, at least here in IL.

  21. jesdynf says:

    @swalve: I guess you could call it socialism if you wanted to stretch the point. But there’s a fair difference between a chemical formula and a banana plantation.

    Pfizer spent the money BECAUSE the American people made a deal 200 someodd years ago — we would support this notion of ideas as property so you could make a buck on your ideas, with the understanding that our willingness to play along had a strict time limit. Pfizer’s eyes were wide open when they went into this. They knew it was going to happen. It’s literally nothing less than the cost of doing business.

    As for your comment about generic formulations — you’re quite right. I don’t know much about the topic, but I know that coatings and precise internal formulations are often covered under *different* patents, so while you’re still getting ibuprofen, how it hits your system is a crapshoot.

  22. korith says:

    It only makes sense, the company is going to do what it can to keep its profits up. One can only hope the family doctor keeps up to date and will prescribe the low cost generic.

  23. bustit22 says:

    For all those guys who hate the high cost of drugs, good luck getting companies to develop any news ones!

    In case you haven’t noticed, Pfizer stock is in the hole, the company is set to lose 40% of it’s revenue in the next few years due to patent expiration.

  24. KJones says:

    If the drug companies don’t want generics made out of their drugs, then don’t patent the damn things; ask Coca-Cola, it worked for them. And if Pfizer was so worried about the public, why weren’t they doing a full court press when Zocor’s stuff cost more?

    Many/most products sell for different prices in different markets because of local economies, incomes and other factors. For example, cars in Singapore sell for three times what they should because of pollution and space on the streets, and music and DVDs in poor countries often sell for less than half the North American price.

    Drug companies, on the other hand, want to gouge customers for the most they can get, such as expecting African nations to pay $100 per person per month for AIDS treatments before a public uproar ended that nonsense. And in India, local companies were sued – but won – for making illegal generics to sell to the poor.

    I have no sympathies for these whiners. Even the RIAA has a better argument.

  25. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Buran: “…so it’s launched a big media-blitz to convince people not to switch to simvastatin, the generic version of its name-brand competitor, Zocor.”

    The story is about the manufacturer of Lipitor, getting up in arms about ANOTHER COMPANY’S DRUG, Zocor, going generic.

    This is just SO MUCH MORE beautifully insane than if they were upset about generic versions of their drug.

  26. woertink says:

    @KJones: It is pretty trivial to identify the active ingredient in most of these drugs. The small molecule drugs could be identified in a few hours by a competent organic chemist. Food chemistry works pretty differently since most natural flavors are a complex and subtle mix of hundreds or even thousands of compounds which can be very difficult to replicate without knowing the process.

  27. KJones says:


    What you’re talking about is called “reverse engineering” in computers. It’s illegal to disassemble a program and copy the code, so what technicians do is figure out what the software _does_ and then make a program to (try and) do the same thing (eg. AMD can imitate and copy Intel’s instruction set but not it’s hardware). That’s perfectly legal.

    If a drug company breaks down the components and copies the recipe while it’s under copyright protection, they’ll be breaking the law, so what you’re suggestion serves no purpose to those who want to make money. The medical equivalent to “reverse engineering” would be making a drug that cures the same diseases, and that’s what Zocor’s drug does, only now it’s free of copyright protection.

  28. KJones says:

    Oops. I meant “suggesting”, not “suggestion”.

  29. swalve says:

    @jesdynf: I like how you put that. A well-reasoned rebuttal. Thank you!

  30. wesrubix says:

    You know, Pfizer has every right (if they do it accurately) to bring to consumer attention that generics are not 100% identical to their proprietaries. US regulations do not require 100% atom for atom matching, only that the major effective receptors on the molecules of the medication be similar enough.

    My sister actually responded poorly to fluoexetine (prozac generic), and responded positively to prozac proprietary, and it was confirmed not to be a psychosomatic side effect. The chemical diff actually affected her.

    So, if you really have problems with a generic, and you can afford the proprietary that works for you, you should get it. Otherwise, you should probably ask your pharmacist (NOT your doctor) about other alternatives, and then go ask your doctor about them. Pharmacists know more about medication than doctors.

  31. nancypants says:


    Sometimes it isn’t even the proprietary that works best, but the generic under a different manufacturer. We do have one or two patients who have to take their fluoxetine from a specific manufacturer or they get…cranky.

    Honestly, though, unless you’re talking thyroid hormones or coumadin/warfarin, you’ve got bioequivalency and therapeutic equivalency. The average patient will notice no difference in the two drugs other than appearance. I believe that thyroid hormones and coumadin/warfarin are bioequivalent, but not therapeutically equivalent due to the very small amount of variation allowed. In those cases, it isn’t even that the patient needs to take a brand name drug, just that they stick to whichever one they’re using.

    I’m sure a pharmacist will back me up if I’m wrong on anything. :)

  32. nancypants says:


    *correct me, not back me up. :)