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Lipitor patent expires, lowering cost of best-selling drug

The end of this month marks a milestone in the pharmaceutical industry's intellectual property. The patent for Lipitor, the top-selling drug in the world, will expire. This means generic versions of the drug will soon be available, making it significantly less expensive and more accessible.

New Jersey residents are undoubtedly familiar with the cholesterol-lowering drug, which has been a big seller since it was created 20 years ago. At its peak it accounted for 27 percent of pharmaceutical company Pfizer's sales, according to Democrat and Chronicle.com.

Patents for other major prescription drugs are expiring soon, too. One of them, the blood thinner Plavix, is the second-top-selling drug. The patent for popular asthma drug Singulair is expiring next year.

When a company applies for a patent, it is required to disclose the exact contents of the invention. In the pharmaceutical industry, generic versions of that invention inevitably follow once the patent expires in 20 years. This is good news for any patient who needs the drug but cannot afford the inventing company's version of it. That holds true in the case of Lipitor, too. Millions of Americans already take the drug, which costs about $4 a day. Generic versions could drop that price down to just 10 cents a day, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.

While the expiration of the patent will mean a loss in revenue for Pfizer, it represents a tremendous gain for patients who need a drug designed to lower cholesterol and reduce their chance of a fatal heart attack or stroke.

Patients using these and other drugs are also more likely to get generics from a pharmacy, as opposed to seeking samples from their doctor. As a result, large retail pharmacies should also see a benefit.

Source: Democrat and Chronicle.com, "Expiring patents will slash the cost of popular prescription drugs," Sean Lahman, Nov. 13, 2011

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