For almost 20 years, Pfizer Inc. has had exclusive rights to the brand-name erectile dysfunction (ED) drug Viagra. Now marketplace competition is driving the company to launch its own generic version of the medicine.
“This is really going to make a difference for guys who need [Viagra],” says Nachum Katlowitz, MD, the director of urology at Staten Island University Hospital in Staten Island, New York. “Right now, the biggest barriers for treatment are that the pills are expensive and that insurance companies don’t want to pay for them.”
With the upcoming alternative generic Viagra, men with erectile dysfunction will now have another option that won’t break the bank.
Viagra: A Breakthrough for Erectile Dysfunction Treatment
Viagra first hit the market in 1998. The pill changed the way doctors treated ED and men viewed the condition.
“I mean it was enormous, probably the equivalent of penicillin for infections,” says Dr. Katlowitz. “It got people to talk about sexual dysfunction. It turned it into a physiological problem, and people were now willing to discuss it.”
Prior to Viagra, men had to resort to more invasive options, such as penile implants or injections.
The Story of Generic Viagra
In 2013, Pfizer settled with Teva Pharmaceuticals to allow the company to market a generic version of Viagra. The pharmacologically active ingredient in Viagra is sildenafil. Teva agreed to pay Pfizer royalties for its product until its patent expired in 2020.
As of March 2016, at least nine other companies have filed applications with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to manufacture a generic version of Viagra.
Pfizer decided they didn’t want to get left out of the generic conversation. In December 2017, the company announced it will sell its own generic version of Viagra, which early reports suggest will cost roughly half the price.
A Breakthrough Drug Price Tag
Katlowitz says the cost of Viagra has skyrocketed since the drug was first introduced.
“At the time, men were paying around 15 dollars a pill. Now it’s more like 45 to 50 dollars a pill.” he explains. “It makes no sense that the price is three times what it was. They really ripped off the country by raising the prices.”
To help out his patients financially, Katlowitz prescribes the medicine Revatio, which contains the same active ingredient as Viagra but is used to treat people with a heart condition known as pulmonary hypertension. The dosing is different, but he helps his patients adjust it.
Many insurance companies won’t cover the cost of the drug, and ones that do usually only pay for a few pills a month.
What Pfizer’s Generic Viagra Means
Here’s what you can expect when Pfizer launches generic Viagra:
- Pills will be cheaper. While we don’t know exactly how low the price will go, men are expected to save a considerable amount of money. Some news reports put the price at between $30 and $35 a pill. “Teva’s version is probably going to be cheaper than Pfizer’s, but we really don’t know how much the savings will be,” says Katlowitz.
- You’ll have more options. More competition is good for consumers. You’ll have the choice of going for the lowest price or the brand you prefer. “Some men will just feel more comfortable going with Pfizer’s pill because they know it and they’ve used it for so long,” says Katlowitz.
- Online buying might dwindle. Right now, many men buy their pills online to avoid high costs. One potential problem with drugs sold over the internet is that they may be contaminated, counterfeit, or expired. Having a lower-cost, generic version of Viagra could offer a safer alternative for many men.
- Other generic options are likely to follow. Reports show that other generic versions of Viagra are set to hit the market in 2018, which may lower prices even more. Cialis and Levitra will also see competition by generic drug makers next year.