Marissa Miller has a fine post about desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), Wyeth's attempt to cover up for their bestseller Effexor coming off patent in the near future. Coverup? Considering that desvenlafaxine is a clear knockoff of Effexor (venlafaxine), yes, I'm sticking with that descriptor. Why do research to develop an innovative medication when you can just sell one that is quite highly similar to the one that is already a sales blockbuster?
The idea is not new – make a drug that very closely resembles your existing product, then get it FDA-approved slightly before the old one goes off patent. Lexapro-Celexa, Invega-Risperdal, and now Effexor-Pristiq. The new drug offers no advantage over the drug that is about to go generic, and why would it – if you have a red 1975 Ford Pinto or a green 1975 Pinto, you still have the same crappy car.
Aren’t patents supposed to protect inventions that possess the potential to benefit people? Aren’t patents supposed to reward creativity? There is no creativity here – we’re talking a slight manipulation of a molecule to create a new compound that is no better than the first one.
But the blame does not just lie with the patent process. Why are physicians prone to fall for this game? Why do so many physicians prescribe Lexapro (escitalopram), which is pert-near a clone of Celexa (citalopram), when Lexapro is much more pricey? In fact according to Walgreens, 90 pills of 10mg generic citalopram will run $127.59, whereas the same supply of Lexapro costs $210.79. The marketing miracle that constitutes the heart and soul of modern psychiatry is damn good at convincing physicians that newer equals better.
Perhaps if physicians received adequate training in research methods and statistics during medical school, they could actually learn to critically review clinical trial data to discover that the ploy of near-clone medicines usually does nothing but increase costs. Then doctors could also laugh their way through continuing medical education or, better yet, insist that CME start to resemble education rather than advertising.