Pharmas Market with Mike Huckman

Pfizer's Lipitor Vs. Generic: Heart Of The Matter For Me


Pfizer has been using Dr. Robert Jarvik, the inventor of the Jarvik Artificial Heart, for quite some time now as its Lipitor "celebrity" pitchman. But recently I've noticed something remarkable creeping into his copy--the script he reads for TV and radio spots and the text that appears in the print ads.

In the face of a 13% decline in third-quarter U.S. Lipitor sales Pfizer is now taking dead aim at the intense competition from cheaper, generic Zocor.

On the earnings conference call, Pfizer Chairman and CEO Jeff Kindler called the threat an "unprecedented, commercial assault in the history of our industry." Merck and Schering-Plough also saw sequentially flat sales of their cholesterol-fighting drugs Zetia and Vytorin in the third quarter. We'll hear from AstraZeneca about the sales of the most potent statin on the market, Crestor, this week when it reports earnings.

The other day I heard another radio commercial featuring Dr. Jarvik. Normally, I don't pay much attention to them since he's been on the air for awhile, but this one made my ears perk up when at the end of the spot he said, "I trust my heart to Lipitor. Not a generic." That quote may not be verbatim, but it's pretty darn close. I was driving at the time and couldn't pull over, so I repeated the line to myself over and over hoping to commit it to memory.

It's common practice to name 'Brand X' in prescription pharmaceutical commercials these days, but this is the first time that I can recall a major drug company actually calling out a "generic" in its advertising. In a full-page Lipitor ad that appeared in the Sunday "Newark Star-Ledger" Jarvik is quoted as saying, "I take Lipitor instead of a generic."

And in the "patient education" section of the Lipitor web site the language is even more direct. In copy set off in a different color it says, "There is no generic substitute for LIPITOR." (The caps are Pfizer's.)

I've been taking the 10mg dose of Lipitor for a few years now. And Medco Health Solutions , GE's pharmacy benefit manager, has sent me at least two letters urging me to switch to the cheaper, generic simvastatin--the scientific name for Zocor.

But I haven't complied. It has nothing to do with the influence of Dr. Jarvik or anyone else--i.e. Dr. Steven Nissen of The Cleveland Clinic, one of this country's preeminent cardiologists, says the overwhelming majority of Lipitor patients would probably do just fine on generic Zocor. It's just that the drug seems to be working--and no, I am not endorsing Lipitor--so, why fix something that ain't broke? Pfizer probably wishes there were millions more patients like me, then its Lipitor sales and its stock price might not be sagging.

Questions?  Comments?