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NHS consults on loosening controls for Viagra

Published on 23/01/14 at 04:31pm
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The Department of Health is looking to make cheaper generic versions of Pfizer’s Viagra more widely available to patients with erectile dysfunction.

In 1999 the Department brought in measures to restrict NHS prescribing of a number of erectile dysfunction (ED) treatments, including Pfizer’s Viagra (sildenafil), because they were considered too costly for routine availability on the NHS.

These restrictions mean that only certain men can have ED treatments prescribed on the NHS, for example, men with diabetes or prostate cancer.

But Viagra lost its patent protection in the UK in June last year, meaning copycat versions of sildenafil began flooding the market - quickly launched by generic giant Teva along with 19 other companies.

Due to this fierce competition, prices have dropped by 93% from the £46.99 it used to cost for an eight-pack of 100mg tablets of Viagra.

But to help combat generic competition, Pfizer said it would launch its own cheaper brand, named ‘Sildenafil Pfizer’, to avoid being outdone by competitors.

The company said men would still need a prescription to purchase the drug on Viagra.com, but would not need to see a pharmacist.

The Department of Health said in a statement: “Now it [Viagra] is available more cheaply, we are consulting on proposals to amend the regulations to allow unrestricted prescribing of the generic drug for men with ED.”

The consultation is now out until 21 March 2014, and those wishing to respond can contact: edconsultation@dh.gsi.gov.uk at the Department of Health.

Viagra was making more than $2 billion in peak annual sales before succumbing to generic erosion across Europe in 2013. The US patent remains valid until 2019 however - a market from which it still makes around a $1 billion in sales each year.

In the UK in 2012 before the expiry of its patent, the NHS wrote 2.3 million prescriptions for Viagra at a cost of £40 million, making it one of the most costly medicines for the NHS - after the £300 million it had been spending on another Pfizer drug - the anti-cholesterol Lipitor, which has also now lost its patent.

Viagra was first launched 15 years’ ago as the first treatment of its kind for ED, and was discovered at Pfizer’s former European R&D headquarters in Sandwich, Kent, which has since become a Discovery Park after Pfizer pulled out of the site in 2011.

Since then a number of other drugs for the condition have become available, including Lilly’s Cialis and GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer’s Levitra, and more recently Vivus’ drug Stendra.

Ben Adams 

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