It's here. The cholesterol-fighter Liptor, the biggest hit in the history of the pharmaceutical industry, is now widely available in generic form.
The Pfizer drug finally lost its U.S. patent protection at the end of November, opening the door for cheaper substitutes (atorvastatin, generically) and ending the monopoly for one of the most profitable brand-name products of any kind.
So how much might you save on Lipitor now? If you have insurance, you should be able to get atorvastatin for the price of a generic copayment. Around $10 is typical.
For the next few months Pfizer is looking to keep people using brand-name Lipitor with subsidized copays. Depending on your insurance, you might get a month's supply for as little as $4 out of your wallet with the Pfizer deal. Without the card, the average copay for the brand is around $25.
What are the actual prices of Lipitor and the generic copycats?
That question isn't easy to answer. The bottom-line price paid for prescription drugs by insurers, pharmacy benefits managers and drugstore chains is practically a state secret. There are incentives and rebates that aren't made public.
But you can get a sense of the cost difference from the cash price someone without insurance would pay.
My neighborhood CVS said a 30-day supply of the 10 milligram dose of Lipitor would cost $150.99. The generic: $117.99.
How about Wal-Mart? One nearby quoted a $119.78 price for the same strength of the brand and $105.46 for the generic.
At the nearest Costco, a month's worth of 10 mg Lipitor goes for $116.74 while the generic is $87.14.
For the week that ended Dec. 9 (the first full week generic atorvastatin was available in the U.S.), brand-name Lipitor accounted for 41 percent of prescriptions for the statin, according to Goldman Sachs. Generics (there are two right now) already claimed 59 percent.
Drug industry analyst Richard Evans says the real price breaks should come in the second half of 2012, when more companies start making and selling generic atorvastatin. Don't be surprised if the generic costs as little as $4 a month during the second half of next year, he says.
Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen says Lipitor's transition to generic status marks the end of an era in the pharmaceutical industry. "But a new era is beginning," he tells Shots. "Many of the tremendous benefits [for heart health] we've seen can now be achieved at much lower prices."