BOISE -- The world's top selling drug of all time now has a generic version, and that means more competitive prices. The cholesterol-lowering pill Lipitor lost its patent protection Wednesday, and that same day, the FDA approved another lab to sell a generic version of the drug called atorvastatin calcium.
Pharmacists say patients will save money and so will businesses and taxpayers who help pay for prescription plans. The prices should fall dramatically. Boise cardiologist Dr. James Smith says one pill is $3 or $4 without insurance.
By next summer, the Associated Press says patients can expect an 80% drop. That means the drug would go from $3 or $4 per day to 60 to 80 cents.
"The majority of our patients are on some sort of lipid lowering medication, and Lipitor has been the most common used," Doctor James Smith said. "We've been forced away from [prescribing Lipitor] just because of the fact the patients couldn't afford the co-pay or afford to buy if it wasn't covered by their insurance."
Smith is excited because he believes more patients will be able to take the exact drug he'd like to prescribe; he says Lipitor is a main tool in fighting high cholesterol and thereby preventing coronary disease and stroke.
"Currently, a lot of the insurance companies require us not to use Lipitor, which is more potent than some of the generics," Smith said "But [insurance companies] force the patients to do the generic because of the cost and that hopefully will not be the case now."
With a patent there was no competition; the brand name Lipitor was the only choice to get that exact drug.
"This will give us additional latitude in terms of using what we think medically is most appropriate for the patient without having to be stymied by the fact that they can't afford it." Smith said.
Pharmacist Lyle Trone of Medicap Pharmacy in Meridian says Lipitor is one of their most common prescriptions to fill. He explained the cost of the medication has been a problem for some of his customers.
"Cost has definitely been an issue. For people, especially if they don't have insurance and that's going to be the most effective medication for them, just for a 30 day supply, that can be $100-$200," Trone said.
Even with a co-pay, Trone says insured patients pay $25-$50 a month. As of Wednesday, Lipitor's manufacturer Pfizer lost its patent protection and the FDA has approved a generic manufacturer, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. Starting in June, other manufacturers are expected to begin selling their own versions as well.
"[Customers have] been asking about it," Trone said. "They're excited it's coming. Especially to see their co-pays and their costs come down. Because for a lot of people, especially the elderly, the cost can be expensive when they're on a fixed income, so they're excited that they're going to have a cheaper co-pay and be able to afford their medication a lot easier."
It won't just be generic versions of the drug you'll find cheaper than the current price of Lipitor. Pfizer plans subsidize patients and insurers to offer the drug at or below the cost of generic at least through June.
Lipitor isn't the only popular drug with More than 100 brand-name drugs will lose patents in the next decade according to prescription benefits manager Medco Health Solutions. Some big ones: blood thinner Plavix, depression aid Lexapro, and bi-polar medication Seroquel, all should go generic in the next six months.
To see a complete projection of brand-name medications expected to lose patent protection within the decade, click here.