Prescription heartburn drugs, which have been burning a hole in consumers' wallets for years, could be in for another price break.
Patients who take the popular brand-name proton-pump inhibitor known as Protonix, sold by New Jersey drug giant Wyeth, should know by Sept. 7 whether generic drug-makers will be able to make a cheaper copy of the drug, which has about 17 percent of the market for drugs in its class, according to industry figures. It would be the first major drug in the class to go generic since Prilosec five years ago.
Although the proton-pump inhibitors are all similar in safety and efficacy, doctors still prescribe primary brands Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix and Aciphex in large numbers. With $13.6 billion in sales last year, prescription proton-pump inhibitors were second only to cholesterol drugs in the amount of sales they reaped for the pharmaceutical industry, according to IMS Health. Cholesterol drugs such as Lipitor, Crestor and generic Zocor generated $21.6 billion in U.S. sales.
But analysts expect brand name sales of Protonix and its rival brands would suffer if another cheaper generic proton-pump inhibitor were on the market. In the last five years Prilosec, a once-popular brand of prescription proton-pump inhibitor, became available in a generic version and eventually over-the-counter copies, and has put pressure on sales of rival brand names.
Health plans, citing doctor preference and scientific studies, increasingly prefer to cover generic Prilosec because it is similar to Prevacid, Nexium, Protonix and others, analysts say. Branded proton-pump inhibitors can cost $4 to $5 or more per pill compared with less than $3 for generic prescription Prilosec capsules or less than 80 cents a pill for over-the-counter Prilosec. Co-pays for brand proton-pump inhibitors can be $25 to $40 a month or more, compared with $10 for generic Prilosec, health plans say.
"A launch of generic Protonix would certainly rattle the proton-pump inhibitor market, in our view, due to strong 17.1 percent market share, trailing only Nexium [26.2 percent] in branded market share," pharmaceutical industry analyst Joseph Tooley of A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. wrote in a report.
Generic Prilosec had 24 percent market share of weekly prescriptions in an A.G. Edwards report Aug. 6, compared with 17.9 percent at the same time last year. By comparison, market share of rival brand names Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix and others were flat or down from the year ago.
Lake Forest-based TAP Pharmaceutical Products Inc., which sells Prevacid, is losing market share the fastest. Its share was 16.2 percent, down from 19.2 percent a year earlier, according to the A.G. Edwards report, which also cited IMS data.
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