Monday 19 February 2018

Patients will save €330 a year as patent on top-selling drug expires

Aideen Sheehan Consumer Correspondent

PATIENTS taking Ireland's biggest-selling medicine will save more than €330 a year as cheaper alternatives become available following the expiry of patent protection for the Lipitor drug.

Pharmacies have said they will slash the price of cholesterol-lowering medication as generic versions of the Lipitor drug come on the market next month.

The total saving for consumers will run into millions of euro, and individuals could save more than €330 each year based on expected cuts of up to €28 in the price of a month's supply of the drug.

More than 220,000 people in Ireland are on Lipitor -- which is also the biggest selling medicine worldwide. The drug, which has the scientific name atorvastatin, is used to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol and raising 'good' HDL cholesterol.

The HSE will also benefit from reduced prices as it currently spends almost €100m a year on Lipitor with 2.4 million packets issued to patients under state schemes like the medical card.

Lipitor currently retails at between €23 and €65 a month depending on dosage strength and where you pick up the prescription.

But generic alternatives will be available for between €11 and €45 after May 7.


Drug companies are given patent protection to give them exclusive rights to sell a drug, as payback for their investment in developing them.

But this expires after a set period to allow rivals make cheaper generic versions. This is what is happening with Lipitor.

Tesco said its new prices will start at €11.25 a month for 10mg rising to €20.69 for the 80mg strength at its three pharmacy outlets in Balbriggan, Naas and Portlaoise. That's around 56pc less than the branded version.

The DocMorris/Unicare chain will be selling a generic type of atorvastatin for between €20.19 and €45.03 a month at its 72 chemists nationwide.

This is between 26pc and 30pc lower than its price for branded Lipitor -- even though it's also manufactured by Pfizer -- and DocMorris said this would save customers up to €204 a year.

Boots chemists said it will also be offering a cheaper generic alternative to Lipitor from next week, but had not decided on the price yet.

However, patients will have to ask their doctors for new prescriptions -- because legislation allowing pharmacists to substitute cheaper generic drugs has not yet been introduced.

Pharmacists have criticised the failure to introduce the long-promised legislation because it means doctors have to specifically write atorvastatin instead of Lipitor on the prescription to allow customers opt for the cheaper version.

DocMorris managing director Cormac Tobin said many customers were unable to afford their monthly medication, and although pharmacies are not allowed advertise prices they would be running a publicity campaign to inform them there were now cheaper generic alternatives to Lipitor available.

"Lipitor is one of the really big private medicines, because so many people in their thirties, forties and fifties are on it for life, so we are duty bound to make sure people know a cheaper alternative is there," he said.

It was important to assure customers that generic drugs had an identical active ingredient to the branded version, he added.

Irish Independent

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