Legal issues could prove to be a problem for Pfizer Inc., the world’s largest pharmaceutical company. According to a recent New York Times article, Pfizer is being sued for some of the marketing it provided for its anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor.
The Teamsters and a consumer group filed the lawsuit, citing that Lipitor was marketed to women and people over the age of 65, a demographic that has not been proven to benefit from having lower cholesterol.
The company’s stock value has also been depreciated this year by a pending patent lawsuit. The article stated that profits for Pfizer are reaching an eight-year low.
The drug company, Ranbaxy, is suing Pfizer because two critical patents for Lipitor are invalid. If Ranbaxy is successful, it could force Pfizer to open Lipitor to generic competition by 2007, several years before the expected expiration date of the patent.
Pfizer is no stranger to fighting patent lawsuits. In 2004, the company filed lawsuits against five operators of websites that offered generic versions of Lipitor. Pfizer sought to end further sales of generic versions of Lipitor and wanted damages awarded because of the patent infringements practiced by the companies involved in the lawsuit.
Lipitor is still under patent law in the United States, but some of the sites claim their drugs came from India, a country that does not acknowledge patent laws.
Pfizer wanted the courts to also prevent the sites from using the Lipitor name in advertisements and to remove links that lead patients to unapproved drugs.
A Wall Street Journal article released in May stated that the pharmaceutical industry spent $4.45 billion in 2004 on advertisement specifically aimed at consumers in all media; which was a 27 percent increase from 2003.
The rise in funding for marketing has some professionals thinking that pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer are now spending too much time trying to attract potential consumers.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to put so much effort into marketing to the public because a lot of people like to self-diagnose themselves,” said Dr. Candace Brown, a pharmacist at Rite-Aide.
“I think drugs should be marketed specifically to healthcare professionals.”
Christy Trimble, also a pharmacist at Rite-Aide, expressed mixed feelings about the subject. “Marketing is beneficial in some ways because a patient can be familiar with all the available treatment options, but it also can make patients want to over-medicate themselves.”
Dr. Robert L. Thomas, interim dean of the college of pharmacy, has a mixed view on the issue as well.
“I was initially opposed to marketing to the public, it’s not possible to give all the pros and cons of a drug in a three minute ad,” Thomas said.
Dr. Thomas believes there is a positive side to marketing to the public, because it aids consumers in becoming familiar with the type of medications available to treat their potential illnesses.
Dr. Thomas said these marketing attempts are not designed to simply inform the public of all the available drugs in the market, but to generate business for the companies.
He said that these ads are created so consumers will make an effort to visit a physician and inquire about a particular medicine they might have seen in an ad on TV.
Pfizer’s difficulties are a direct reflection of how competitive the pharmaceutical industry has become.
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