Product Managers Could Learn To Love Lipitor

by drjim on April 9, 2012

What would it take to make you choose Lipitor over a generic drug?

What would it take to make you choose Lipitor over a generic drug?

It is the best of times to be a pharmaceutical drug product manager, it is the worst of times to be a pharmaceutical drug product manager. Over at the drug powerhouse Pfizer they’ve got a very, very popular cholesterol-lowering drug that they market under the brand name Lipitor. Unfortunately, patents on drugs only last for so long and the patent on Lipitor is just about ready to run out. That means low-cost generic versions of Lipitor will be flooding into drugstores everywhere. What’s a (drug) product manager to do?

What’s The Goal Here?

You can well imagine the sheer panic that any product manager who is facing the looming arrival of a lot of competition must be feeling. In the world of pharmaceutical drugs part of the product development definition is that the manufacturer of a drug gets patent protection on a new drug.

Here in the United States, the patent that has been filed on a drug lasts for 20 years. It gets a bit more tricky however, because companies file even before clinical trials start. This means that by the time the drug hits the marketplace, the patent may only have between 8 to 10 years left. Once the patent expires, other companies can produce the drug using the same ingredients and bring their version to the market, introducing competition and generally lowering the prices for the drug.

In the case of Pfizer’s Lipitor drug, the time is up – by the time you read this article, its patent protection will have elapsed. This means that generic versions of the drug will be available and perhaps for a lot less money. Oh, oh – none of us have anything on our product manager resume that tells us what to do in this situation. Now can you see the Lipitor product manager’s problem?

Let’s face it: Lipitor is going to lose market share. It’s got to happen. In fact, there is a long list of other big name drugs that have almost vanished once their patent protection went away and cheaper generic versions showed up.

Pfizer’s product managers have a goal. Their CEO, Ian Read, stated it when he said that “…we’re going to do our best to enable the maximum number of individuals to stay on the brand that they’ve come to know and trust.” Powerful words, but how can they make it happen?

The Lipitor Action Plan

As you may have guessed, there is not just one thing that the Lipitor product managers can do that will minimize the impact of their loss of patent protection. Instead, they’ve launched an all-out frontal assault on their marketplace in order to minimize the damage that patent loss is going to cause.

First off, they have started to offer cards to their current customers. The use of these cards lowers the customer’s insurance co-pays down to $4 / month for a Lipitor prescription. They plan to keep this program in place even after they lose patent protection.

Next, they’ve taken steps to make it easier to actually get your hands on Lipitor. They are doing this by giving their customers the option of receiving direct delivery of the drug. They are also offering a program that will send emails to customers that remind them to fill their prescriptions.

Finally, Pfizer realizes that what drugs we get is heavily influenced by what drug-benefit plan we participate in. Because of this, they are negotiating special deals with drug-benefit plans so that Lipitor is not more expensive than the generic alternatives.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers really don’t like competition. We’d rather have our customers to ourselves and not have to worry about fighting off competitors. However, that’s not the way the world works. In fact, the more profitable a customer is, the more competition we’ll have for their business. It’s almost part of a product manager job description.

The drug company Pfizer is getting ready to do battle with generic drug companies when its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor loses its patent protection. Generic drug companies are getting ready to flood the market with lower cost alternatives.

Pfizer’s product managers are working hard to keep customers and the companies that manage their health care on board. They are doing this by slashing prices and creating “sticky” marketing programs that are designed to keep existing customers from leaving the brand.

Low price is a powerful pull even when we are talking about our own health. We need to watch and see how Pfizer does in their efforts to prop up Lipitor sales. If they can do it, then we will all have learned a good lesson on how to meet the competition on their own turf and still come away a winner.

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think the Pfizer should launch a new low-price brand of Lipitor in order to better compete with the generics?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you’re a product manager, then you always want to be a winner, right? It’s almost an integral part of our product development definition — you want your product to storm into the marketplace and kick some butt and become #1 overnight. You want to climb to the top of your marketplace and you want to stay there forever. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? You’d be right if it weren’t for the fact that sometimes you’ll be more successful if your product is #2…

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