Pfizer sells Viagra online to combat fakes
NY Times: "Some industry analysts saw Pfizer's move as part of a continuing effort to market drugs directly to consumers, bypassing insurance companies that can be reluctant to pay for so-called lifestyle drugs or that force consumers to pay hefty co-payments. The company said about 90 percent of privately insured patients in the United States receive coverage for Viagra, and co-payments can range from $29 to $49.
Another drug maker, AstraZeneca, has a similar arrangement with an outside pharmacy to sell the breast-cancer treatment Arimidex to patients."
USA Today/AP: "Pfizer's bold move blows up the drug industry's distribution model. Drugmakers don't sell medicines directly to patients. Instead, they sell in bulk to wholesalers, who then distribute the drugs to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices......If it works, drugmakers could begin selling other medicines that are rampantly counterfeited and sold online, particularly treatments for non-urgent conditions seen as embarrassing. Think: diet drugs, medicines for baldness and birth control pills."
World News | May 07, 2013 Kevin Grogan
Pfizer has launched a website to sell its erectile dysfunction blockbuster Viagra, in a bid to stop the sale of counterfeit pills from fake online pharmacies.
The drugs giant says that the site, which is powered by CVS/pharmacy and accessible through Viagra.com, offers men in the USA with ED an opportunity to purchase Viagra (sildenafil) online with a valid prescription "from a trusted source". Victor Clavelli, marketing group leader at Pfizer's primary care business unit, noted that there are almost 24 million searches a year for Viagra online and "by offering men with ED convenient access and a legitimate alternative…our hope is that Pfizer will help rein in the distribution of fake ED products".
Matthew Bassiur, vice president of Pfizer Global Security, said that "we have seen counterfeit medicines manufactured in filthy and deplorable conditions, yet some people do not realise the risks that this poses to their health and safety, our top priority". He noted that samples of counterfeit Viagra tested in the company's labs have contained pesticides, wallboard, commercial paint and printer ink.
In 2011, Pfizer Global Security evaluated 22 websites appearing in the top search results for the phrase "buy Viagra" and conducted chemical analysis of the pills advertised as Pfizer's Viagra that were ordered from these outlets. The study found that about 80% of these pills were counterfeit, and while the fake Viagra pills contained sildenafil, the amount was only 30%-50% of what was advertised.
The initiative will be closely watched by drugmakers, and indeed pharmacies and insurance firms, as the highly-unusual step of selling lifestyle treatments direct to patients may be seen by companies as an attractive proposition.
Facing Black Market, Pfizer Sells Viagra on Web
Niko J. Kallianiotis for The New York Times
Pfizer now sells Viagra, the erectile dysfunction drug that is one of its chief money makers, online to men with a prescription.
NY Times By KATIE THOMAS
Published: May 6, 2013
Pfizer has taken the unusual step of selling its erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra, to consumers on its Web site, in an effort to establish a presence in the huge online market for the popular blue pill, considered to be one of the most counterfeited drugs in the world.
Viagra is one of Pfizer's marquee drugs - the company said it brought in more than $2 billion in sales in 2012 - but some drug experts estimate Pfizer could be losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to a prolific black market of online pharmacies that cater to men too embarrassed to buy the drug through traditional means. As of Monday, in an arrangement with CVS/pharmacy, patients in the United States with a valid prescription for Viagra are able to fill their order through the new Web site, where the sentence "Buy real Viagra" is featured prominently. Patients will still need to visit a doctor, but they will be spared the additional trip to the pharmacy counter.
If Pfizer's move is successful, more drug makers could follow suit, especially for other products that treat conditions carrying social stigmas, such as weight loss. "This could be the prelude to a vast number of products" of medical importance being sold online, said Roger Bate, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert in counterfeit drugs.
But others cautioned against such predictions, saying that Viagra might be particularly well suited to online sales because of its powerful brand recognition and the widespread competition from counterfeiters.
Victor Clavelli, a marketing executive at Pfizer whose portfolio includes Viagra, said the drug appeared in about 24 million Internet searches a year, often in phrases like "buy Viagra" - well in excess of the approximately eight million Viagra prescriptions written in the United States last year, according to the research firm IMS Health. "A lot of those patients get diverted into an illegal counterfeit market," Mr. Clavelli said. "Our goal is to just make sure those patients actually get the real Viagra."
Since Viagra arrived on the market in 1998, Pfizer has sought to minimize the stigma around male impotence - rebranded as erectile dysfunction, or E.D. - by enlisting celebrity endorsers like the former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole and encouraging men to have the "Viagra talk" with their doctors.
But even as men flooded doctors' offices for prescriptions for what is commonly known as "the little blue pill," others turned to a vigorous black market, whose growth mirrored an explosion in online commerce. "Viagra is one of the classics," said Mr. Bate. "Diet pills for women and erectile dysfunction medicines for men are the most sought-after medicines online."
Matthew J. Bassiur, vice president of Pfizer Global Security, said in a statement that the company had seen counterfeit medicines manufactured "in filthy and deplorable conditions, yet some people do not realize the risks that this poses to their health and safety, our top priority." He added that samples of counterfeit Viagra tested by Pfizer labs had contained "pesticides, wallboard, commercial paint and printer ink."
"These findings," Mr. Bassiur said, "motivate us to continue our aggressive global efforts to stop those who prey on unsuspecting patients."
Pfizer said it conducted a survey in 2011 in which it evaluated 22 Web sites appearing in the top search results for the phrase "buy Viagra." Chemical analyses found that about 80 percent of the pills were counterfeit. The fake Viagra pills contained only about 30 to 50 percent of the active ingredient, sildenafil citrate, compared with the actual product.
Not all medicines purchased online are fake, however - many pharmacies, based both in the United States and abroad, require a doctor's prescription and sell valid versions of drugs. Importing drugs from other countries is technically illegal, although the federal government generally does not prosecute individuals who purchase medicines in small amounts for their own use. The problem, Mr. Bate said, is that it is difficult for consumers to distinguish the legitimate pharmacies from the illicit ones. "For the very nervous purchaser online," he said, Pfizer is "a name brand you know really well, and the chance of your buying a counterfeit is close to zero." He noted, however, that some cash-paying customers may balk at the purchase price. The average list price for Viagra is about $22 a pill, while many online pharmacies sell it for about $10.
Some industry analysts saw Pfizer's move as part of a continuing effort to market drugs directly to consumers, bypassing insurance companies that can be reluctant to pay for so-called lifestyle drugs or that force consumers to pay hefty co-payments. The company said about 90 percent of privately insured patients in the United States receive coverage for Viagra, and co-payments can range from $29 to $49.
Customers who buy Viagra through the Pfizer Web site get three free pills in their first prescription - which typically consists of six pills - and 30 percent off their second prescription.
Mr. Clavelli, the Pfizer marketing executive, said the current Viagra discount was not unique to customers who buy through the online service and had been offered to patients online and at doctors' offices for months.
Another drug maker, AstraZeneca, has a similar arrangement with an outside pharmacy to sell the breast-cancer treatment Arimidex to patients.
Viagra has about 49 percent of the market for sexual dysfunction treatments, followed by Cialis, which holds 39.7 percent, and Levitra, with 8.6 percent, according to IMS Health.
Pfizer to let bashful buyers get Viagra online
TRENTON, N.J. (May 6 AP) - Men who are bashful about needing help in the bedroom no longer have to go to the drugstore to buy that little blue pill.
In a first for the drug industry, Pfizer Inc. told the Associated Press that the drugmaker will begin selling its popular erectile dysfunction pill Viagra directly to patients on its website.
Men still will need a prescription to buy the blue, diamond-shaped pill on viagra.com, but they no longer have to face a pharmacist to get it filled. And for those who are bothered by Viagra's steep $25-a-pill price, Pfizer is offering three free pills with the first order and 30% off the second one.
Pfizer's bold move blows up the drug industry's distribution model. Drugmakers don't sell medicines directly to patients. Instead, they sell in bulk to wholesalers, who then distribute the drugs to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices.
But the world's second-largest drugmaker is trying a new strategy to tackle a problem that plagues the industry. Unscrupulous online pharmacies increasingly offer patients counterfeit versions of Viagra and other brand-name drugs for up to 95% off with no prescription needed. Patients don't realize the drugs are fake or that legitimate pharmacies require a prescription.
Other major drugmakers likely will watch Pfizer's move closely. If it works, drugmakers could begin selling other medicines that are rampantly counterfeited and sold online, particularly treatments for non-urgent conditions seen as embarrassing. Think: diet drugs, medicines for baldness and birth control pills.
"If it works, everybody will hop on the train," says Les Funtleyder, a health care strategist at private equity fund Poliwogg who believes Pfizer's site will attract "fence-sitters" who are nervous about buying online.
The online Viagra sales are Pfizer's latest effort to combat a problem that has grown with the popularity of the Internet.
In recent years, Americans have become more comfortable with online shopping, with many even buying prescription drugs online. That's particularly true for those who don't have insurance, are bargain hunters or want to keep their medicine purchases private.
Few realize that the vast majority of online pharmacies don't follow the rules.
The Internet is filled with illegitimate websites that lure customers with spam emails and professional-looking websites that run 24-hour call centers. A January study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, which accredits online pharmacies, found that only 257 of 10,275 online pharmacy sites it examined appeared legitimate.
Experts say the fake drugs such websites sell can be dangerous. That's because they don't include the right amount of the active ingredient, if any, or contain toxic substances such as heavy metals, lead paint and printer ink. They're generally made in filthy warehouses and garages in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Online buyers are "playing Russian roulette," says Matthew Bassiur, vice president of global security at New York-based Pfizer.
"The factories are deplorable. I've seen photographs of these places," he says. "You wouldn't even want to walk in them, let alone ingest anything made in them."
Pfizer, which invented the term "erectile dysfunction," has long been aggressive in fighting counterfeiters. It conducts undercover investigations and works with authorities around the globe, with good reason.
Counterfeit versions of Viagra and dozens of other Pfizer medicines rob the company of billions in annual sales.
Viagra is one of its top drugs, with $2 billion in worldwide revenue last year. And it's the most counterfeited drug in the U.S., according to the company.
A 2011 study, in which Pfizer bought "Viagra" from 22 popular Internet pharmacies and tested the pills, found 77% were counterfeit. Most had half or less of the promised level of the active ingredient.
Viagra is appealing to counterfeiters because it carries a double whammy: It's expensive and it treats a condition with an "embarrassment" factor.
Crooks running the illegal online pharmacies brazenly explain their ultra-low Viagra prices - often $1 to $3 a pill - by claiming they sell generic Viagra.
Generics are copycat versions of brand-name prescription drugs. They can legally be made after a drugmaker's patent, or exclusive right to sell a drug, ends. Generic drugmakers don't have to spend $1 billion or so on testing to get a new drug approved, so their copycat versions often cost up to 90% less than the original drug.
But there is no such thing as generic Viagra. Pfizer has patents giving it the exclusive right to sell Viagra until 2020 in the U.S. and for many years in other countries.
Many patients are unaware of that.
Dr. David Dershewitz, an assistant urology professor at New Jersey Medical School who treats patients at Newark's University Hospital, says 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 says.
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, which plans to have drugstore chain CVS Caremark Corp. fill the orders placed on viagra.com.
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 firm IMS Health.
The reason? Competition from rival products, mainly Eli Lilly and Co.'s Cialis - the pill touted in those ubiquitous commercials featuring couples in his-and-hers bathtubs in bizarre places.
Judson Clark, an Edward Jones analyst, forecasts that Viagra sales will decline even further, about 5 percent each year for the next five years, unusual "for a drug in its prime."
Clark says he thinks Pfizer's strategy will prevent sales from declining, but he's unsure how well it will work.
"It's a very interesting and novel approach," he says. "Whether it returns Viagra to growth is hard to say."
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