Pfizer’s monopoly over the blockbuster cholesterol-reducing molecule atorvastatin, trade name Lipitor, ends today (November 30) with the expiration of the patent that has brought the company over $100 billion since the drug was introduced in 1997. While the introduction of generic alternatives into the market may pose a relief for consumer pockets, the expiration of patents for Lipitor and other drugs in the next three years may result in a loss of about $95 billion for big drug companies, Nature reported.
Atorvastatin was first synthesized in 1985 by Bruce D. Roth, a chemist working at Parke-Davis Warner-Lambert Company (now Pfizer). Modeled after naturally occurring compounds known as statins, atorvastatin reduces blood cholesterol by inhibiting a key liver enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol. When Lipitor splashed into the market in 1997, it was celebrated as a marked improvement over available drugs due to its high efficiency and few side effects.
But the past decade has not boded well for pharmaceutical companies, as investors have come to realize that success stories such as Lipitor’s are more the exception than the norm. As a result, big companies such as Pfizer have drastically reduced their research and development budgets, and many are shying away from possible blockbusters and turning toward more niche drugs, according to Nature.
Generic Lipitor, produced by New Jersey-based Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., will be available as early as December 5, with other companies following suit pending FDA clearance, Bloomberg reported.