Case Studies

Pfizer sells Viagra on its website in a drug industry first

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Pfizer is testing the online-sales waters with a new program to sell Viagra directly to consumers. It’s a natural choice: Makers of erectile dysfunction drugs have been working on packaging and formulation changes to make it easier–and more discreet–for men to use them. This new channel is about as discreet as you can get for a prescription drug.

It’s not the first time a drugmaker has experimented with direct sales, but it’s the first still-on-patent drug to be distributed this way. Pfizer itself tested a program it called Lipitor For You, which allowed brand-loyal patients to enroll online and receive the newly off-patent cholesterol drug directly from a specialty pharmacy. The company phased that program out last spring.

And as with the Lipitor program, the Viagra move includes money-off coupons to stimulate sales. Pfizer offers three free pills with the first order and 30% off the second, the AP reports. The drug giant is working with CVS Caremark to actually fill the orders placed on the Viagra website, AP says.

With Lipitor, Pfizer wanted to support sales of the branded version as long as possible to help it blunt the pain of its patent cliff. With Viagra, the motivation is different; Pfizer won extended patent protection for the ED pill, so it doesn’t lose market exclusivity till 2020.

Discretion is, of course, one motivating factor. And then there’s the fact that Viagra already faces cheap knockoffs in the form of counterfeit pills. The company’s security team has grown adept at tracking down Viagra counterfeiters, but with direct-to-patient sales, Pfizer can compete with illegal copycats on their own turf–the Internet.

After Pfizer began Lipitor For You, AstraZeneca ($AZN) launched Arimidex Direct to promote the off-patent breast cancer treatment. Patients with a valid prescription enroll online and receive the breast cancer treatment directly for the cash price of $40 per month (or less for privately insured patients with lower co-pays). The company’s Arimidex Direct website is careful to note that patients now using generic versions of the drug can still enroll in the direct-sales program.

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