Between now and October 2012, the patents for seven big name drugs will expire, including those for a popular cholesterol lowering drug, Lipitor, and the blood thinner Plavix. In addition, the next five years will see the patent expiration for drugs that currently bring in about $255 billion each year in global sales, according to London research firm EvaluatePharma.

The generic drugs that will pop up as the big name patents expire will mark an unprecedented change in the market, reports The Seattle Times. In the next decade, about 120 brand-name prescription drugs for high cholesterol, blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, depression, high triglycerides, HIV, bipolar disorder, and more will find themselves up against cheaper generic versions, which cost anywhere from 20 to 80 percent less than their brand name competitors.

"My estimation is at least 15 percent of the population is currently using one of...

For those who aren’t filling their prescriptions because they can’t afford them, the change may bring welcome relief. But for drug makers, which have failed to keep up the blockbuster pace of the 1990s, it could mean disaster.

"The profit dollars that companies used to reinvest in innovation are no longer going to be coming," says Terry Hisey, a consultant at Deloitte told The Times, which raises "long-term concerns about the industry's ability to bring new medicines to market."

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