Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical giant that has reaped billions of dollars in sales for its best-selling cholesterol medication Lipitor, has found itself facing charges that it was making unscrupulous deals to keep Lipitor at the top of the sales charts.
A branch of the Australian government that oversees consumer protection has filed suit against the company, accusing it of engaging in illegal sales tactics to promote sales of the drug.
There’s an interesting backdrop to the filing of these charges. Pfizer’s patent on Lipitor — which was the number one drug in sales in Australia — expired in the middle of 2012.
That opened the door for competitors to enter this lucrative medical marketplace with cheaper, alternative generic forms of the medication, which successfully lowers bad cholesterol and helps protect patients with cholesterol problems avoid heart attacks and strokes.
So, according to allegations filed by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), Pfizer attempted to stay ahead of the game with some underhanded sales tactics.
Specifically, the ACCC said Pfizer was offering enticing discounts and rebates to pharmacies that agreed before the expiration of the patent, to buy large quantities of Lipitor and stockpile their shelves with the medications.
In Australia, the United States and most countries such bad behavior is described as a violation of anti-trust and fair trade regulations and that’s how the authorities down under see it.
“Pfizer engaged in this conduct for the purpose of deterring or preventing competitors in the market for atorvastatin (Lipitor) from engaging in competitive conduct,” said ACCC Chairman Rod Sims in announcing the charges. “This case also raises an important public interest issue regarding the conduct of a patent holder nearing the expiry of that patent.”
Australia is not the only country in which Pfizer is defending itself in courtrooms over Lipitor.
Many patients, primarily women, have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of Lipitor and other statins in the United States, claiming that they developed diabetes as a result of their use of Lipitor and were not warned of this dangerous risk.