Pfizer Losing Lipitor Patent: What Investors Need to Know

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What's happening in the headlines can affect you as an investor. Here's what's going on, what you need to know, and what you should do.

The cold, hard facts
The Financial Times is reporting that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) is losing its U.S. patent today on Lipitor, its blockbuster cholesterol drug and the best-selling drug in pharmaceutical-industry history. U.S. sales of Lipitor account for 9% of the company's total revenue.

Some context
U.S. patent law dictates that, for the first six months, only two competitors can offer a generic version of the drug; these will be Watson Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: WPI  ) and Ranbaxy Laboratories. In the meantime, Pfizer will continue to market Lipitor aggressively in the U.S., playing on the usual patient concerns of switching to generics.

According to the Financial Times, this strategy has been successful in emerging markets, where patients often choose more expensive branded drugs over generics out of concern for quality and safety. Pfizer will also go head to head with generic competitors here by offering patients one-month supplies of Lipitor for $4 for the next six months.

What you need to know
Lipitor prices will continue to erode sharply in the U.S. no matter how clever and thorough the company's preparation for this day has been. But there's hope for continued company success and growth in at least two areas.

First, Pfizer still has patents on the drug in some international markets, and Asia is ripe with growth potential for cholesterol drugs. Also, in July, the company won a six-month extension on exclusive rights to Lipitor in Europe.

Second, barring other blockbuster drugs that may emerge from Pfizer's R&D pipeline, another classic avenue of growth for big pharmaceutical companies is simply to buy it. In the past two years, Pfizer bought Wyeth, Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) bought Schering-Plough, and Sanofi (NYSE: SNY  ) bought Genzyme.

So the immediate future, at least, looks bright for Pfizer. Keep track of further developments in this story by adding Pfizer to My Watchlist, a free service of The Motley Fool that lets you easily keep up with all the companies on your investing radar. Add Pfizer to My Watchlist.

Fool contributor John Grgurich loves the smell of newsprint in the morning, but he owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned above. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Pfizer. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a scintillating disclosure policy.

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