To the detriment of Pfizer, the European patent that has protected Viagra from copy-cat generic companies for over a decade expired last Friday.
As a bit of history, Sildenafil (Citrate), the active ingredient in Viagra, was created by scientists at Pfizer’s Sandwich, Kent research facility in 1990. It started out as a treatment for high blood pressure but clinical trials revealed a fascinating, somewhat unexpected side-effect in male users… the rest, as they say, is history.
Viagra will still be marketed by Pfizer across Europe, including in the UK, and Pfizer will almost certainly introduce its own generic version of Sildenafil Citrate, codenamed ‘White Diamond’, this week in an attempt to retain market share among the new generic options. Nevertheless, following the expiry of the European patent, Pfizer will face competition from more than 20 different generic manufacturers which will flood the market with identical versions of Sildenafil Citrate.
The extra competition combined with the much lower research and development costs for these generic players means that, apart from suddenly facing multiple competitors, the average price for treatment is likely to drop from around £10 per pill to less than £1 within weeks.
Like most big pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer has been expecting and planning for the loss of patent protection for several years. The company will endeavour to keep Viagra in the market, albeit at a lower price, and encourage patients to continue to request the drug by name, thus side-stepping the generic threat.
However, the big question keeping Pfizer up at night is not necessarily what it will now do about Viagra, but what other wonder drug it has that can possibly replace it.