Pfizer plans to challenge retailers suit over Lipitor tactics

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Pfizer said it is confident it can fend off a lawsuit filed by five retailers who claim the drug company and the generic drug manufacturer Ranbaxy Laboratories conspired to stall sales of the generic version of Lipitor.

Walgreens, Kroger, Safeway, SuperValu and HEB Grocery Co. filed a lawsuit July 5 in Trenton, N.J., that claimed Pfizer and Ranbaxy in India created roadblocks to marketing of generic atorvastatin through a fraudulent patent, fabricated litigation and a price-fixing agreement, the news agency Reuters reported. The strategy was described as part of “an overarching scheme” to keep generic atorvastatin mothballed until Nov. 30, 2011, 20 months after the original patent expired.

The five retailers claim that lack of access to the generics added “hundreds of millions of dollars” to what they paid for the drug, which is used as a treatment for high cholesterol. Reuters reported that the plaintiffs seek triple damages.

Pfizer spokesman Christopher Loder told Reuters that the drug company denies any wrongdoing and was prepared to defend itself. “We are confident that Pfizer’s procurement and enforcement of its Lipitor patents was at all times proper and lawful,” he said.

New York City-based Pfizer was criticized after it employed a series of strategies designed to retain market share after Lipitor came off patent in 2011. Those tactics included deals with insurers and pharmacy benefits managers to provide Lipitor at below generic costs, a $4 co-payment card for direct sales and an agreement with Watson Pharmaceuticals to sell the drug at entry-level generic prices for a cut of sales.

Pfizer and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries of Israel also face antitrust litigation in lawsuits filed by CVS Caremark and Rite Aid, on charges that they delayed the generic versions of the antidepressant Effexor XR, according to Reuters. Pfizer and Teva have denied those claims.

Lipitor was Pfizer’s top selling drug, capturing about $10 billion annually in sales. Sales for the first quarter of 2012 dropped about 42 percent compared with the previous year’s quarter, from $2.39 billion to $1.4 billion.