Pfizer ($PFE) plans to pay doctors in England to prescribe its drug Lyrica. But don’t jump to conclusions. These payments are in a category all their own.
They’re part of Pfizer’s bid to keep Lyrica sales high in spite of rival generics, the latest development in an unstinting attempt to keep doctors from prescribing the drug for one of its more lucrative uses.
The drugmaker has zeroed in on the nitty-gritty of Lyrica’s patent protection in England to protect it from generic competition. Originally a seizure drug, Lyrica recently lost its patent in England for that use–but Pfizer has a later patent covering Lyrica as a treatment for neuropathic pain.
Lyrica generics hit the market nonetheless. Theoretically, they could be prescribed off-label for pain, but Pfizer would have none of that. It told England’s National Health Service that it would crack down–and sue if necessary–if doctors used generics for pain. A court order backed Pfizer’s case, and ordered the NHS to officially recommend against using generic Lyrica for pain.
The NHS acknowledged Pfizer’s point, and issued a communique to doctors, ordering them to prescribe Lyrica as a brand-only remedy unless they were using it to treat epilepsy patients. Not only that, but doctors had to switch existing prescriptions back to the brand ASAP.
Doctors weren’t happy about the decision. They complained about their loss of prescribing freedom–and in more concrete terms, complained about the cost of complying with the rules. Pharmacists weren’t happy either. One group of doctors even billed the NHS for the cost of amending those prescriptions.
Now, Pfizer says it will cover the administrative costs of switching those prescriptions, Pulse reports. In a letter to NHS officials, Pfizer said it would pay “reasonable and proportionate costs” to practices so that the brand switch can “be progressed quickly.”
Pfizer isn’t the only drugmaker worried about products approved under a “carve out” indication. Hospira ($HSP), for instance, now faces generic versions of its Precedex drug, with the copies approved in one of the drug’s two indications. The company tried–and ultimately failed–to fight that approval in court. Takeda Pharmaceutical was hit with an FDA approval to Hikma Pharmaceuticals’ Mitigare, a head-to-head competitor to its own gout drug Colcrys, despite the latter’s orphan exclusivity in familial Mediterranean fever. Most recently, Otsuka failed in a last-ditch attempt to protect its antipsychotic Abilify, based on orphan drug exclusivity on one indication.