How Pfizer games the system

  • Lyrica has been a major source of revenue for Pfizer.
  • The commercial success of this product was driven in large part by the 163% price increases in the last six years
  • Pfizer had filed and was issued patents for an additional twenty year period on a controlled-release formulation.

Lyrica, one of Pfizer’s top-selling drugs used to treat neuropathic pain, is a prime example of the type of over-patenting based on trivial inventions that are often used by drugmakers in order to artificially extend their commercial exclusivity while raising prices.

With a first patent filed in 1995, and the drug on the market for the past fourteen years, Lyrica has been a major source of revenue for Pfizer. The drug grossed over $5 billion in global sales last year, $3 billion of from U.S. payers, including insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid.

The commercial success of this product was driven in large part by the 163% price increases in the last six years, the most severe hike amongst the top twelve drugs.

Additionally, the drug ranked as the second-highest (behind Humira) in total amount of direct-to-consumer spending in 2017 with $216 million spent by Pfizer on television ads alone.

Lyrica was set to go off-patent at the end of 2018 and the entry of generic competition would have quickly and markedly reduce Pfizer’s revenue from Lyrica by 70-90% in less than two years. But Pfizer had filed and was issued patents for an additional twenty year period on a controlled-release formulation of the product (Lyrica CR), meaning that patients would take a single pill instead of two or three pills daily. With these patents,  Pfizer’s hold on the market will remain and, if history is a guide, they will continue major repeated increases in the price of the drug.

In July 2018, Pfizer again tried to raise the price of Lyrica, alongside approximately 100 other medicines, years after Lyrica was first put onto the market. The Administration called out Pfizer’s actions and, under pressure, Pfizer reversed course. Yet ensuring generic competition by preventing patent abuse would be a far more effective and systemic solution to ensure Pfizer and other drugmakers do not continue repeated and unjustified price hikes for medicines.

Across the top twelve grossing drugs in America:

  • There are 125 patent applications filed and 71 granted patents per drug.
  • Prices have increased by 68% since 2012, and only one of the top twelve drugs has actually decreased in price.
  • There are 38 years of attempted patent protection blocking generic competition sought by drugmakers for each of these top grossing drugs – or nearly double the twenty year monopoly intended under U.S. patent law.
  • These top grossing drugs have already been on the U.S. market for 15 years.
  • Over half of the top twelve drugs in America have more than 100 attempted patents per drug.

So this is called innovation?  No, it’s called “gaming the system” and keeping Wall Street happy, but don’t be fooled, Wall Street has always been their primary customer, not patients.

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