Today, a U.S. patent covering the cholesterol drug Lipitor® expires. During the life of the patent, Pfizer, which owns the ground-breaking drug and the patents thereto, could prevent others, namely generic drug makers, from offering or selling drugs in the U.S. that fall within the protected claims of the patent. As of today, with the expiration of the patent, Pfizer’s exclusivity for this particular patented drug formulation ends, opening the arena for generic competitors to enter the marketplace.

In view of the loss of this major asset, Pfizer has been creative in finding other means of protecting their cash flow, which was based in large part on Lipitor® sales. Some of the more interesting and uncommonly aggressive maneuvers they are taking include offering the same or lower co-pay for the brand name Lipitor® drug as generics, as well as blocking agreements with some insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to keep generics from being offered to customers. Whether other Big Pharma companies adopt similar tactics when the patents of their blockbuster drugs “fall off the patent cliff”, as many are scheduled to in the near future, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Pfizer is reported to be shifting its focus to biologics and specialty medicines, reducing its size, and expanding sales of existing drugs in developing countries. It should also be noted that some patents covering other aspects of Lipitor® have some remaining life span, though they may only cover narrow embodiments or limitations.