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Commentary

A Troubling Drug Combination
The New York Times, 3-15-05

The New York Times says that “Pfizer’s plan to market a promising new cholesterol drug only in combination with one of its existing products may well make sense as a business decision. But it will limit the flexibility of doctors to prescribe the best mix of medicines and is a disservice to patients who might fare better taking the new drug alone or in combination with drugs that Pfizer doesn’t make. It’s also a terrible precedent for the pharmaceutical industry.”

Pfizer may tie its new drug, torcetrapib, with its established statin drug Lipitor, which goes off-patent in 2010, ensuring the combination of drugs will reap continued sales and profit from Lipitor after its goes off-patent.

While the Times considers this a cause for concern, we would add an important caveat. Torcetrapib will probably turn out to be just the first drug in this new class of medicines - cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors - and not the last. Just as there are 6 different statin drugs competing for market share, CETP inhibitors will, if successful, turn out to be an equally crowded class of drugs.

Is it “bad” for Pfizer to tie its statin with this new drug? That is far from clear right now. It may actually, in the long run, hurt Pfizer’s sales of the drug if a competitor comes out with a stand-alone CETP inhibitor that allows doctors to prescribe it with any statin. Or, on the other hand, combination statin drugs may become popular because of their convenience and efficacy.

In the meantime, there is no reason to worry. Companies should remain free to maximize their profits and respond flexibly to a highly competitive market environment. Ultimately, boosting profits now means more research and more medicines in the future.



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