Pfizer Accused of Illegally Delaying Generic Lipitor
07/06/2012| 09:05am US/Eastern
Five retailers joined a legal battle against Pfizer Inc. (>> Pfizer Inc.), accusing the drug maker of using anti-competitive tactics to delay the introduction of competing generic copies of Pfizer's blockbuster cholesterol-lowering pill Lipitor.
The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Trenton, N.J., by Walgreen Co. (>> Walgreen Company), Kroger Co. (>> The Kroger Co.) and three other chains adds to litigation against Pfizer in the wake of Lipitor's loss of U.S. market exclusivity last November, which triggered the launch of lower-priced generic versions and began eroding sales of the brand-name drug.
The plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit said generic copies of Lipitor should have become available 20 months earlier, in March 2010, when the original U.S. compound patent for Lipitor expired.
New York-based Pfizer, however, has said it has later-expiring patents covering Lipitor.
The lawsuit alleges Pfizer used "an overarching anticompetitive scheme" to delay generic Lipitor until November. Specifically, the drug maker was accused of the following: defrauding the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain a Lipitor patent; filing a sham citizen petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and securing a 2008 agreement with Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. (500359.BY) that barred Ranbaxy from selling generic Lipitor until November 2011.
Like other lawsuits, the latest suit also alleges that Pfizer's arrangements with pharmacy-benefit managers forced purchasers to buy more brand-name Lipitor at higher prices--and less lower-priced generic versions--than they would otherwise have bought.
In a statement Friday, Pfizer said it denies the claims in the retailers' lawsuit and will defend itself vigorously.
"We are confident that Pfizer's procurement and enforcement of its Lipitor patents was at all times proper and lawful," the company said. "The Lipitor patent settlements, including the settlement with Ranbaxy, were submitted for review by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and are proper and lawful in all respects."
Pfizer used an aggressive strategy to preserve Lipitor market share as it lost exclusivity, offering discounts to consumers and certain payers. Pfizer has defended those arrangements by saying that many patients wanted to keep using branded Lipitor, and that its contracts didn't add cost to the health-care system.
The latest lawsuit alleges, however, that retailers paid hundreds of millions of dollars more for drugs containing Lipitor's active ingredient than they would have paid if Pfizer hadn't taken these actions.
In addition to Walgreen and Kroger, the other retailers filing the latest lawsuit are Safeway Inc. (>> Safeway Inc.), Supervalu Inc. (>> SUPERVALU INC.) and Heb Grocery Co.
Ranbaxy also was named as a defendant along with Pfizer. A spokesman wasn't immediately available.
Pfizer has said purported class-action lawsuits have been filed over Lipitor in various federal and state courts since November 2011. The suits seek to represent various classes of people or entities who purchased or reimbursed patients for the purchase of Lipitor or generic Lipitor beginning in March 2010.
The suits generally allege that the launch of generic Lipitor was delayed by Pfizer's 2008 legal settlement with Ranbaxy, as well as Pfizer's procurement and enforcement of certain patents for Lipitor.
The suits, which seek treble damages under antitrust laws, have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings in federal court in New Jersey.
Pfizer recorded Lipitor sales of $9.58 billion for 2011.
Write to Peter Loftus at firstname.lastname@example.org