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Curmudgeon's Corner

cur-mud-geon: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner

More Generic Drugs Coming Soon

U.S., Quality of Life, Healthcare

Generic pharmaceuticals save a lot of people a lot of money every year.  There are some big name drugs that will lose their legal protection this year and that signals generics coming online that fill the void a few months later.

It costs an enormous amount of money (in the billions of dollars) for a pharmaceutical company to successfully bring a new drug to market, and that is rewarded by patent protection for seven years.  Once the patent expires other companies are permitted to manufacture the generic equivalent of that name-brand drug.

Lipitor (Pfizer) is probably the biggest name brand “name” to be coming off patent late this year.  It sold about $11 BILLION worth last year.  Plavix is also among the name brands losing patent protection in coming months.

The “purple pill”, Nexium, is a great example.  When that drug was introduced about seven years ago, the manufacturer, AstraZeneca, bought a lot of television advertising and saturated newspapers and magazines with advertisements.  Doctors were besieged with requests from patients for Nexium.  Now Nexium is about to go off patent and there are, no doubt, several companies ready to bring their generic versions into the marketplace.  Most health insurance plans make both the brand name version and the generic version of drugs available but try to channel the consumer, through the use of co-payments, to the usually far less expensive but equally effective generic.  The cost differential can be very significant, and the efficacy of the generic is controlled by regulation to be very close to, if not equal to, the original brand name version.

Your pharmacist is among the best people to approach if you have questions about a brand name versus a generic version.  True, the doctor is writing the prescription and is very well versed.  He or she also probably uses a computer system that holds all the information on every version.  Not all of us are comfortable in calling the doctor’s office and worry that we’re taking too much of his or her time with our questions.  Many medical organizations are scheduling their physicians very tightly and that leaves less and less time for the doctor to interact with callers or e-mailers.

Pharmacists are more approachable and are very knowledgeable about the chemical composition of the medications, the interactions with other medications you may be taking, etc.  Pharmacists can seem “more human” and therefore easier with whom to talk, especially for those of us in the “older generation” who grew up revering the doctor.

I have found that generics have been every bit as effective for me, and they are much, much less expensive.  Interestingly enough, the name brands will also drop in price after the generics have been introduced due to marketplace pressures. 

In some instances, the name brand drug becomes an over-the-counter (OTC) drug, after some slight modifications and FDA approval, after the seven year patent protection has disappeared.  Prilosec OTC is a good example of this.  In other cases, pharmaceutical companies have combined one drug with another and created a new patent period to protect their money-earning capability.  This has happened but doesn’t occur very often.  Some companies have made deals with the would-be producers of the generic version to keep that version off the market for a period of time.  This is also uncommon but could become more common in the future.  There is now legislation in Congress to deal with this subject.

Some pharmaceutical firms are focusing more on exotic, narrow-use drugs.  Pfizer has received FDA approval of a new targeted drug called Xalkori that is targeted to a form of lung cancer that affects from 6,500 to 11,000 patients in the United States a year.  This new pill will cost about $9,600 per patient per year.  This will probably help Pfizer keep its earnings up even with Lipitor coming off patent.

Pharmaceuticals are a big money business with a lot of risk.  We love each new medicine that becomes available.  Even better is that point where the patent expires and we pay a lot less for all these great medicine breakthroughs.

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