Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Viagra goes generic - Pfizer to launch own little white pill

Published:Thursday | December 7, 2017 | 12:00 AM
This Monday, December 4, 2017 photo shows Pfizer's Viagra, left, and the company's generic version, sildenafil citrate, at Pfizer Inc headquarters in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

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 US$65-a-pill retail price on Monday, when its patent-protected monopoly ends. Generic maker Teva Pharma-ceuticals can start selling its version then, but is not disclosing the price. Many more generics go on sale next summer, which will steadily slash the price of generics, possibly by 90 per cent.

"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 ageing 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 United States market with on-demand pills and daily, low-dose ones. Viagra is a close second. Pfizer says its market research shows that 20 per cent of customers are loyal to Viagra. So rather than give up sales to generic makers as brand-name drugmakers once routinely did, the company is selling its own generic and also fighting to keep men on its blue pills.

In January, the drugmaker will offer two new discount programmes and increase its co-payment card discounts. Uninsured men can get brand-name Viagra half off through an innovative online home-delivery programme, 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 US$20 co-payment.

 

COMPREHENSIVE RESPONSE

 

"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."

Last year, more than 12 million prescriptions for Viagra and Cialis were filled in the US, generating a combined US$3 billion in sales, according to health data and clinical research company IQVIA. However, prescriptions have dropped more than 20 per cent 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 US$10 to US$62 per pill for Viagra and from US$11 to US$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. Cialis and Levitra, another pill launched in 2003, get their own generic competition next fall.

- AP