Gazing over the patent cliff

LAST century, technological breakthroughs in drug development saw pharmaceutical companies riding a wave of success for decades. The champagne has been flowing ever since, but like all good parties it must come to an end.

A host of blockbuster drugs emerged around the 1990s, delivering guaranteed profits for the firms that had invested so much in them. 

But as many of those blockbusters now come off patent, it is estimated that ‘big pharma’ will lose a collective $200 billion globally between 2010 and 2014 as the shelves fill with generic drugs.

Pfizer’s Lipitor is a case in point. It has earned the company US$130 billion in 14 years, but generic Lipitor alternatives have already flooded the Canadian and US markets since the patent expired last year.

Pharmacists in Australia are also stocking their shelves with generic equivalents of Lipitor in readiness for when the world’s biggest selling drug –