[Ip-health] Viagra sells online as hard-up Pfizer tackles counterfeits

Riaz K Tayob riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Mon May 6 12:56:23 PDT 2013

Bus Model change...

  Viagra sells online as hard-up Pfizer tackles counterfeits

06 May 2013 15:54 - Linda A Johnson 



In a first for the drug industry, Pfizer has said that it will begin 
selling its erectile dysfunction pill Viagra directly to patients on its 

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. 
Drug makers 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 drug maker 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 realise the drugs are fake or that legitimate 
pharmacies require a prescription.

Other major drug-makers likely will watch Pfizer's move closely. If it 
works, drug makers 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 

*Don't follow the rules*
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 realise that the vast majority of online pharmacies don't follow the 

The internet is filled with illegitimate websites that lure customers 
with spam emails and professional-looking websites that run 24-hour call 
centres. 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."

*Counterfeit versions of Viagra*
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 

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 US, 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" 

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.

*No such thing as generic Viagra*
Generics are copycat versions of brand-name prescription drugs. They can 
legally be made after a drug maker's patent, or exclusive right to sell 
a drug, ends. Generic drug-makers 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 US 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, 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 have 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, which plans to have drugstore chain CVS Caremark fill the orders 
placed on /viagra.com/.

*Viagra sales will decline*
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% in 2007 to 39% 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% 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." -- Sapa-AP

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