On Friday, Merck & Co.’s Zocor (simvastatin) will lose U.S. patent protection, and health plans are aggressively trying to promote low-cost generic versions of the drug for patients who don’t require a major cut in their cholesterol levels. The makers of Lipitor, Crestor and Vytorin will be battling more fiercely. You may have already noticed a large amount of DTC marketing efforts sprinkled among the commercials during your favorite TV programming. My personal favorite is Vytorin with Aunt Flo …. but I digress.

The makers of Vytorin announced at a medical meeting Sunday that their product lowers cholesterol better than Crestor. Vytorin is a combination of Zetia (ezetimibe) and Zocor (simvastatin), which has been proven to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Meanwhile, Crestor’s manufacturer said that when taken in combination with another drug, its product achieves unprecedented cholesterol reduction.

While it is clear that Merck will take a hit, another drug and the top cholesterol lowring drug on the market, Lipitor from Pfizer Inc.’s may suffer most in the new environment because many patients on low doses of Lipitor medicine could reach the necessary cholesterol level at a high dose of Zocor.

Lipitor’s share of new prescriptions fell to 50.5 percent in January 2006 from 52.7 percent in the year-ago period, according to Verispan LLC, a pharmaceutical information company. By April Lipitor’s share of new prescriptions had dropped to 48.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Zocor’s share of new prescriptions rose to 20.4 percent in January 2006 from 19.4 percent a year earlier. It was 21.3 percent in April.

Pfizer insists there’s abundant data proving Lipitor’s superiority over Zocor that will keep physicians loyal. In more DTC advertising, you may have noticed that Pfizer also recently launched their new ad campaign for Lipitor, featuring the doctor who invented the artificial heart (I think I counted seeing this ad over 5 times one eveing last week in just 2 hours of programming). But, Pfizer’s overall strategy remains the same: highlighting Lipitor’s ability to lower cholesterol and protect against heart attacks and strokes.

Lipitor’s share of new prescriptions fell to 50.5 percent in January 2006, down from 52.7 percent in the same period a year before, according to Verispan LLC, a pharmaceutical information company. By April, Lipitor’s share of new prescriptions fell to 48.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Zocor’s share of new prescriptions rose to 20.4 percent in January 2006, up from 19.4 percent in the year-ago period. It was 21.3 percent in April.

It is still unclear how much cheaper generic Zocor will be because of a legal battle over how many companies will be allowed to promote their versions. If there are only two during the first six months, as many believe, the price won’t drop dramatically until the end of the year.

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