The patent on blockbuster erectile dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil) expires today, and the brand is expected to face vigorous generic competition.
The NHS, which spent £40.3m on the Pfizer drug in 2012, is likely to shift wholesale to generic versions despite the brand’s popularity with patients.
To reduce the financial impact of generic erosion, Pfizer is releasing its own branded generic, Sildenafil Pfizer.
Viagra is priced at £10 per unit in the UK, but generic versions many be priced as low as 85p.
Use of Viagra in the UK reached a record high of 2.3m male patients in 2012, despite its widespread side-effects (nausea, insomnia, headaches).
About 20% of the Viagra prescribed in the UK is obtained from private providers, as the NHS restricts usage to those cases where it identifies medical need – often linked to ageing, heart disease, diabetes or side-effects of other medicines.
However, the use of Viagra as a consumer drug – to enhance performance beyond normal levels or to counter the effects of alcohol – is widespread.
Jonathan Emms, Managing Director of Pfizer UK, said Viagra’s reputation would stand up to generic competition: “The brand is very well established and well known among patients.”
Since its launch in 1998, Viagra has impacted on the sexual experience of millions of people. The brand generated £1.35bn for Pfizer last year, up 4% on the 2011 figure.
A spokesman for the British Generic Manufacturers Association commented: “This is potentially a substantial market and we would expect many companies to launch generic versions when the patent expires.
“Generic competition could see the price erode by as much as 90%. In the private market, patients can also expect to see a cost reduction although they may need to shop around.”