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Pfizer fights to hang on to Lipitor sales

TRENTON -- Lipitor is so valuable that Pfizer is practically paying people to keep taking its blockbuster cholesterol drug as generics hit the U.S. market this week.

Pfizer has devised discounts and incentives for patients, insurers and companies that process prescriptions that will, at least for the next six months, make the brand name drug about as cheap as or cheaper than the generics. Pfizerhas spent tens of millions of dollars this year on marketing to keep patients on Lipitor, which loses patent protection today.

Normally when a drug's patent ends, generic rivals grab nearly all its market share in a year or less, and the original maker quietly shifts focus to its newer products.

Pfizer Inc., the world's biggest drugmaker, is not giving up that easily. Lipitor, the best-selling drug in history, had peak sales of $13 billion and still brings in nearly $11 billion a year, about a sixth of Pfizer's revenue.

"If I can get the name brand at the same price or for pennies more than the generic, I have no motivation to switch," said Richard Shiekman, 59, who has taken Lipitor for six years and credits it with sharply cutting his bad cholesterol. Shiekman, a wine and spirits importer in Redding, Conn., got a $4 co-pay card after his pharmacy offered to guarantee that price through December 2012. -- AP

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