Although many health care professionals have come forward in recent years with warnings that prescription drugs are one of the largest killers in the field of medicine, the general public apparently remains unaware of the yearly death toll attributed to legal drug use - judging by the on-going over-prescribing of prescription drugs.
And nowhere is this fact more obvious than in the case of Lipitor. By use of the manufactured fear of high cholesterol, Pfizer has been able to transform tens of millions of people into life-long customers for Lipitor.
Without question, Lipitor is the all-time granddaddy of blockbuster drugs. It was the first drug to reach $10 billion in sales worldwide, and it has earned close to $50 billion in revenue for Pfizer since 2000.
According to Pfizer's first quarter SEC filing for 2006, Lipitor "is the most widely used treatment for lowering cholesterol and the best-selling pharmaceutical product of any kind in the world, reaching over $3.1 billion in worldwide sales in the first quarter of 2006, an increase of 1% compared to the same period in 2005."
"In the U.S.," the filing reports, "sales of $2 billion represent growth of 3% over the previous year's first quarter."
In fact, according to an estimate in Bloomberg News on August 24, 2006, by Deutsch Bank analyst, Barbara Ryan, Lipitor generated about 40% of Pfizer's 2005 profits.
Lipitor recently bagged a special honor for Pfizer when the Prescription Access Litigation Project (PAL), announced the winners of the 2006 Bitter Pill Awards on April 26, 2006 and the drug shared an award with Crestor, its archrival anti-cholesterol drug.
The Awards honor drug makers "engaging in over-zealous and questionable marketing practices," to highlight the problems caused by the heavy marketing of prescription drugs, and specifically Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA), to include television, radio, magazine and internet ads that target consumers directly, rather than doctors.
According to PAL, statin drugs vary in price from about $33 a month for generics to $162 for brand-names, but millions of people for whom a generic would be fine are taking Lipitor and Crestor, due to their aggressive marketing campaigns.
Overall, the pharmaceutical industry spent $4.65 billion in 2005 for DTC advertising of brand-name drugs, a 4.7% increase over 2004. But experts say its money well-spent because every dollar invested brings back between $1.50 to $4.20 in additional sales, according to PAL.
In 2005, Pfizer spent a total of $93,435,000 on DTC for Lipitor and as a result, the drug's price increased by more than 50% of the rate of inflation.
Another contributing factor to the rise in Lipitor's price might well be due to the salaries of Pfizer's top executives. For instance, as CEO, recently retired Henry McKinnell's annual compensation package in 2005 included: $2, 270,500 (salary) + 3,700,000 (bonus) + 14,499,795 (stock options) + 5,489,400 (LTIP Payouts) + 427,370 (other) = $26,387,065.
However, analysts say the top brass in the company executives are looking for ways to calm investors who are infuriated over the $83 million retirement package Mr McKinnell recently walked off with, after watching a 40% slide in Pfizer stock price during the CEO's 5-year reign. The blue-chip stock, which reached its peak of $50 in 1999 is now trading in the range of $20.27, according to Trading Markets on August 20, 2006.
In announcing the Lipitor-Crestor Bitter Pill award, PAL stated, "The enormous potential market for these drugs, which patients take (and pay for) for years, has caused our award winners to significantly overpromote their drugs."
"The marketing campaigns," PAL said, "have created the impression that anyone and everyone with even slightly high cholesterol needs them."