Vi­a­gra goes generic: Pfizer to launch own lit­tle white pill

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Linda A. John­son

TREN­TON » The lit­tle blue pill that’s helped mil­lions of men in the bed­room is turn­ing white. Drug­maker Pfizer is launch­ing its own cheaper generic ver­sion of Vi­a­gra rather than lose most sales when the im­po­tence pill gets its first generic com­pe­ti­tion next week.

Pfizer Inc. will be­gin sell­ing the white pill at half the $65-a-pill re­tail price on Mon­day, when its patent-pro­tected mo­nop­oly ends. Generic maker Teva Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals can start sell­ing its ver­sion then, but isn’t dis­clos­ing the price.

Many more gener­ics go on sale next sum­mer, which will steadily slash the price of gener­ics, pos­si­bly by 90 per­cent.

“Pa­tients are pay­ing for­tunes. When generic Vi­a­gra comes out, they will be very happy,” said Dr. Nachum Kat­lowitz, a urol­o­gist at New York’s Staten Is­land Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal.

Launched in 1998, Vi­a­gra was the first pill for im­po­tence. It trans­formed a pri­vate frus­tra­tion for many ag­ing men into a pub­licly dis­cussed med­i­cal con­di­tion with an easy treat­ment, far more ap­peal­ing than op­tions like pe­nile in­jec­tions and im­plants. Pfizer’s early TV ads for the lit­tle blue pill even coined the term erec­tile dys­func­tion, ED for short.

Eli Lilly’s Cialis came out in 2003 and now dom­i­nates the U.S. mar­ket with on-de­mand pills and daily, low­dose ones. Vi­a­gra is a close sec­ond.

Pfizer says its mar­ket re­search shows 20 per­cent of cus­tomers are loyal to Vi­a­gra. So rather than give up sales to generic mak­ers as brand­name drug­mak­ers once rou­tinely did, the com­pany is sell­ing its own generic and also fight­ing to keep men on its blue pills.

“We be­lieve that the story for Vi­a­gra isn’t done. It’s just go­ing to be a new chap­ter,” said Jim Sage, pres­i­dent of U.S. brands for Pfizer Es­sen­tial Health, which sells its older medicines.

In Jan­uary, the drug­maker will of­fer two new dis­count pro­grams and in­crease its co­pay­ment card dis­counts. Unin­sured men can get brand­name Vi­a­gra half off through an in­no­va­tive on­line home de­liv­ery pro­gram, Pfizer Direct. Many in­sured pa­tients will be able to get a month’s pre­scrip­tion — typ­i­cally six to 10 pills, de­pend­ing on plan lim­its — for as lit­tle as a $20 co­pay­ment.

“This is the most com­pre­hen­sive pric­ing and mar­ket­ing re­sponse I’ve seen to a generic,” said Erik Gor­don, a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals an­a­lyst at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s busi­ness school. “It’s un­prece­dented.”

Gor­don thinks Pfizer’s re­duced prices will re­tain some pa­tients and at­tract others who buy pills, of­ten coun­ter­feits, from the in­ter­net.

Dr. Matthias Hofer, a urol­o­gist at North­west­ern Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal in Chicago, said some of his in­sured pa­tients who take Vi­a­gra wouldn’t want a generic. “They will be ec­static if they can save money and get the brand prod­uct from Pfizer,” he said.

Last year, more than 12 mil­lion pre­scrip­tions for Vi­a­gra and Cialis were filled in the U.S., gen­er­at­ing a com­bined $3 bil­lion in sales, ac­cord­ing to health data and clin­i­cal re­search com­pany IQVIA. How­ever, pre­scrip­tions have dropped more than 20 per­cent since 2012, as re­peated price hikes put the pills out of reach for many men lack­ing good in­sur­ance.

Ac­cord­ing to health in­for­ma­tion an­a­lyt­ics firm El­se­vier, over just the past decade, re­tail prices jumped from about $10 to $62 per pill for Vi­a­gra and from $11 to $61 for Cialis. Phar­ma­cies and other mid­dle­men add a few dol­lars more per pill.

Generic Vi­a­gra, called silde­nafil, will be­come even more af­ford­able start­ing June 11, when more ver­sions go on sale.

“Many pa­tients al­ready know it’s go­ing generic and they want it,” said Aracely Pena, a med­i­cal as­sis­tant at San Diego Sex­ual Medicine.

Cialis and Le­vi­tra, an­other pill launched in 2003, get their own generic com­pe­ti­tion next fall.

In the mean­time, some doc­tors spe­cial­iz­ing in sex­ual dys­func­tion have found other op­tions. Some pre­scribe generic Re­va­tio, the blood pres­sure pill Pfizer was test­ing when older pa­tients re­ported stronger erec­tions as a side ef­fect. It con­tains one­fifth the silde­nafil dose in Vi­a­gra and costs as lit­tle as $1 per pill.

North­west­ern’s Hofer ar­ranges for his pa­tients to re­ceive made-to-or­der pills from a cou­ple of spe­cialty phar­ma­cies.

Daniel Lo­bello, 60, is sat­is­fied with those pills but thinks a lot of men prob­a­bly would use cheaper generic or brand-name Vi­a­gra.

“It’s great” that the prices are get­ting cut, said the West Chester, Illi­nois, elec­tri­cal in­spec­tor, “be­cause it’s some­thing men need.”

RICHARD DREW — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

This photo shows a tablet of Pfizer’s Vi­a­gra, left, and the com­pany’s generic ver­sion, silde­nafil cit­rate, at Pfizer Inc., head­quar­ters in New York. The drug­maker is launch­ing its own cheaper generic ver­sion of Vi­a­gra rather than lose sales when its im­po­tence pill gets its first generic com­pe­ti­tion.

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