Things have been going very well for the pharmaceutical industry over the past decade or so. A series of “blockbuster” drugs has been bankrolling the industry players fortunate enough to own the rights to those drugs and at the same time financing their search for the “Next Big Drug”. Global spending on pharmaceutical drugs exceeded a record US$643 billion in 2006. In the US, the pharmaceutical industry has been the most profitable industry for many years running. Nascent pharmaceutical industries in countries such as China, South Korea, Mexico and Russia have been virtually guaranteed double digit annual growths.
However, all that may soon come to an end. The years 2011 and 2012 will usher in the patent expiries of a record number of blockbuster drugs. Pfizer’s cholesterol busting drug Lipitor, which has been their best seller with sales of US$12.4 billion in 2008 (making it the top-selling branded pharmaceutical drug in the world at that time) is due for patent expiration in the US in June 2011. Via a licensing arrangement with Indian generic drug company Ranbaxy, Pfizer has delayed this deadline a further five months. This means that a generic version of Lipitor will be available sometime in late 2011.