Lipitor is the top-selling prescription drug in the world and Americans spent over $6.5 billion on Lipitor in 2006 alone. Lipitor’s maker—Pfizer—is spending millions on a marketing campaign to keep Lipitor at number one. But Lipitor is not the only option available for the treatment for high cholesterol, and a new report by Consumer Reports says that many less expensive generic cholesterol treatments work just as well as Lipitor.
Consumer Reports says Lipitor’s compelling ads with Dr. Robert Jarvik—inventor of the Jarvik artificial heart—may lead consumers to believe Lipitor to be the only statin that can lower cholesterol. According to Consumer Reports, Lipitor is—in fact—a highly effective drug for lowering cholesterol and it’s one good choice for people who have high levels of LDL cholesterol or who’ve had a heart attack or who suffer from acute coronary syndrome (ACS). What consumers may not know is that the vast majority of people can get the same protection of Lipitor from a generic statin at less than half the cost.
Generic drugs are chemical twins of brand-name drugs whose patents have expired. Three generic statins now available are: Simvastatin, pravastatin, and lovastatin. Lipitor’s Web site makes a point of saying that there is “no generic form of Lipitor”; however, there will be Lipitor generics in two years when its patent expires. Another good reason why Pfizer is spending lots of money now to ensure brand name Lipitor stays with consumers.
Statins are a class of drugs that lower the level of cholesterol in the blood by reducing the production of cholesterol by the liver, blocking the enzyme in the liver responsible for producing cholesterol. Cholesterol is critical to the normal function of every cell in the body; however, it also contributes to the development of atherosclerosis, a condition in which cholesterol-containing plaques form within the arteries. These plaques block the arteries and reduce the flow of blood to the tissues that the arteries supply. When plaques rupture, a blood clot forms on the plaque further blocking the artery and reducing blood flow. When blood flow is reduced sufficiently in the arteries that supply blood to the heart, the result is angina or heart attack; if on plaques in the brain, the result is stroke; on plaques in the leg, intermittent claudication—pain in the legs while walking. By reducing cholesterol production, statins slow the formation of new plaques and can occasionally reduce existing plaque size. Statins also stabilize plaques and make them less prone to rupturing and forming clots.
Lipitor’s patient information does not list cognitive issues among its side effects; however, anecdotal reports linking statins—like Lipitor—to mental problems are beginning to gain some attention. Some doctors are concerned that statins, specifically Lipitor, might help patients’ hearts but jeopardize their minds. To be certain, researchers at the University of California at San Diego are completing a randomized, controlled trial examining the effect of statins on thinking, mood, behavior, and quality of life. Concerns about statins on cognition have appeared in medical journals, conferences, and the mainstream media for years and there has been talk linking statins to the development of diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—Lou Gehrig’s disease—and Parkinson’s disease.