Viagra online sales to spark price war on ED drugs, HV pharmacists say

Viagra (May 18, 2004)

Viagra (May 18, 2004) (Credit: Bloomberg News File)

The decision by Pfizer Inc. to market Viagra to patients online will spark a new price war in the market for erectile dysfunction medicines, Hudson Valley pharmacists say.

Pfizer, which has a major manufacturing and research site in Pearl River, became the first drugmaker Monday to market its drug direct to consumers on its website, viagra.com. The website offers men three free pills, a 30 percent discount on the second prescription and a "quick and convenient" way to get the drug delivered direct.

Bill Stroud, a pharmacist at Greenleaf Pharmacy in Hastings-on-Hudson, said that the decision would have a minimal impact on retail pharmacies.


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"It's not going to be terrible because most insurance doesn't cover it [Viagra] without the doctor getting prior approval," Stroud said. In most cases, he said, insurers reject the claim, meaning pharmacies get sales only from patients willing to bear the full price of almost $30 per pill.

Milan Chauhan, a pharmacist at Newburgh Pharmacy in Newburgh, agreed that the impact to pharmacies will be minimal.

"It's not that huge," he said.

Pfizer is marketing Viagra online through the website of chain pharmacy CVS Caremark, cvs.com.

Stroud said that patients would benefit from a price war among Pfizer and its competitors, Eli Lilly and Co., the maker of Cialis, and Bayer AG, the manufacturer of Levitra.

"I think there would be a positive impact for the patient," he said. "They have a much more discounted program."

On the cialis.com website, patients are offered 30 tablets of low-dose Cialis for daily use or three tablets of 36-hour Cialis for free. Unlike the Viagra offer, patients would need to fill the Cialis prescription through a pharmacy.

A 2006 study published in the medical journal Clinical Evidence said that erectile dysfunction may affect 30-50 percent of men aged 40-70.

Dr. David Dershewitz, an assistant urology professor at New Jersey Medical School who treats patients at Newark's University Hospital, said erectile dysfunction is common in men with enlarged prostates, diabetes and other conditions, but most men are too embarrassed to discuss it.

He says well over half of his patients who do broach the issue complain about Viagra's price. Some tell Dershewitz that they go online looking for bargains because they can't afford Viagra.

"The few that do admit to it have said that the results have been fairly dismal," but none has suffered serious harm, he said.

For Pfizer, that's a big problem. People who buy fake drugs online that don't work, or worse, harm them, may blame the company's product. That's because it's virtually impossible to distinguish fakes from real Viagra.

"The vast majority of patients do believe that they're getting Viagra," said Vic Cavelli, head of marketing for primary care medicines at Pfizer.

The sales lost to counterfeits threaten Pfizer at a time when Viagra's share of the $5 billion-a-year global market for legitimate erectile dysfunction drugs has slipped, falling from 46 percent in 2007 to 39 percent last year, according to health data company IMS Health.

The reason? Competition from rival products.

Judson Clark, an Edward Jones analyst, forecasts that Viagra sales will decline even further, about 5 percent each year for the next five years.

Clark said Pfizer's strategy will prevent sales from further declining, but he's unsure how well it will work.

"It's a very interesting and novel approach," he said. "Whether it returns Viagra to growth is hard to say."

With The Associated Press

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