June 2011

California Girl Survives Rabies

Rabies is largely considered to be a fatal disease with no known cure. And yet, every so often, someone slips through its grasp. Only three people have survived documented cases of rabies, and eight year old Precious Reynolds is one of them.
Rabies is a curious disease in many respects. Not least because it's worse than most people think, but also not nearly as prevalent as most people think. Rabies fear has been instilled into Americans at a generational level: for the most part, our parents had a terror of rabies drummed into them during America's anti-rabies campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s.

The famous little blue pill fights to renew its patent license

Viagra, Pfizer’s huge-selling erectile dysfunction pill, is set to loose its patent license next year, allowing generic pills to enter the marketplace.  Unless Pfizer can extend its patent or think of some alternative to keep raking in the big money, that is. Some people think that Pfizer is sure to win its patent for another eight years, but others believe that Pfizer will lose its patent, opening the market to new—and potentially dangerous—Viagra competitors, as well as drive down the price of the original drug. 

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Pfizer will lose its Viagra patent on March 27, 2012. Most doctors see this as a good thing—the loss of the patent will necessarily drive down the price of the drug as generic versions enter the market. As of now, Pfizer has raised the price of the drug from five to ten percent every year.  Today, Viagra runs about $14 per pill, raking in $1.9 billion dollars each year for Pfizer. 

Viagra has options to continue to make the same kind of dough it currently does.  The first is to market itself as the first and most effective kind of ED medication—more than 25 million men have taken the pill to date, so it’s following is certainly loyal.  Another option is for the company to apply for over-the-counter status, rather than requiring men to get a prescription from a doctor.  This will drive down the price per pill, but could increase the total number of pills purchased.

Although Pfizer has not announced its plan for a new patent, this is their most probably next step. According to The Wall Street Journal, the company is fighting for a second patent to prevent the Teva Pharmaceutical Industries from manufacturing a generic drug beginning in 2012. The continuation of the patent could increase Pfizer’s earnings from Viagra 3 percent each year from 2013 to 2018. 

Later this year, Pfizer will loose its patent on its cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor, so the company is that much more energetic about renewing its Viagra patent.

If Pfizer loses its Viagra patent, replica drugs, often ineffective and dangerous copies of the original drug, will almost certainly be produced, especially in China. Doctors warn that the active ingredient used in Viagra—sildenafil citrate—used in foreign manufactured ED drugs is not safe.  Currently, despite Chinese manufacturers, sale of these replica pills in the United States is illegal. 

Pharmaceutical companies sell more than $130 billion worth of products each year in the United States.  Patents are part of the reason that the industry is such a multi-billion dollar industry.  In place for twenty years, patents are granted to drugs that are novel, useful and non-obvious. The drug company is also granted monopoly rights, allowing them to charge much more than the cost of production on each drug.

When a company loses a patent, they also lose a significant portion of the drug’s revenue.  After one competitor enters the market, a drug’s revenue typically drops thirty percent and when there are five or six competitors, the drug’s price usually drops 70 to 80 percent.

Judging from previous patents about to be lost, Pfizer may use false patent claims, settlements and new methods of making the drugs that allows the company to reapply for a new patent.     

Chantix: More Or Less Dangerous Than Smoking?

It seems like every day the options for smokers are getting worse and worse. Non-smokers don't understand how expensive it can be to quit smoking! Patches, gums, and all other nicotine substitutes cost a fortune, about one and a half times as much as plain old cigarettes. And statistically, they probably won't work.

No wonder Chantix has become such a popular option in recent years: not only is it covered under many people's health care plans (unlike nicotine gum or patches), but it is also surprisingly effective at getting users to quit.