The expiration of Pfizer's patent on atorvastatin--the chemical behind the blockbuster cholesterol-lowering pill Lipitor--marks a potentially transformative moment for the drug industry. Currently the best-selling drug in the world, Lipitor (and soon several of its fellows) will have to compete with cheaper generics for market share, putting pressure on drug companies to come up with the next round of blockbusters.
We hope that doesn't happen--and in her column over at TIME Ideas, Shannon Brownlee has some comments on why. Basically, the structure of the pharmaceutical industry pushes doctors toward prescribing and patients toward taking lots of pills that we don't really need. That's driving Here's her commentary on what might change to mitigate that pattern in the future:
"...even while Pfizer is now attempting to hold on to its market share by cutting deals with pharmacy benefits managers and directly targeting patients, there are several possible solutions to the blockbuster problem, some of which will happen all on their own. Genomics research will clarify who can really benefit from which drugs and who won’t be helped at all and will make it harder and harder to sell a pill to everyone. Through efforts like the National Physicians Alliance’s Top 5 project, doctors will become even more aware of marketing tactics and will be motivated to stop doing things that don’t benefit patients.Some experts have suggested changing patent law to give drug companies a set amount, say 15 years, of market exclusivity starting from the time they bring the drug to market. (Under current patent law, the clock starts ticking when the patent on the molecule is filed but development might take longer.) This might discourage the legal maneuvering they now engage in (tinkering slightly with the formula, etc.) to delay the moment when generics come in. I think it would be more effective to outlaw, or at least curtail, direct-to-consumer drug advertising, which has contributed mightily to the industry’s success in selling sometimes inappropriate drugs to patients."
You can read the full column here. We'll continue to cover any interesting developments in the blockbuster drug saga--to stay on top of all our posts, don't forget to follow us on Twitter!