Switching to generic Lipitor

Peter Wehrwein

Contributor, Harvard Health

Over a dozen top-selling brand-name drugs have lost, or are about to lose, patent protection, which means other companies can step in and sell less expensive, generic versions of the same drug.

Brand-name drugs that lost patent protection last year include Caduet, a blood pressure medication; Zyprexa, an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; and, most significantly, because it’s such a big seller, Lipitor, a cholesterol–lowering statin drug.

Actos, a diabetes drug; Plavix, a drug which prevents heart attacks and strokes by making blood platelets less “sticky”; and Singulair, an important asthma drug, are among those scheduled to lose patent protection this year.

Drug company executives have seen sales and profits plunge as their products fall off the “patent cliff.” Many companies have retrenched and announced large layoffs.

Is their loss our gain?

Generics are less expensive. If you have insurance, your copayment will be lower.

But many people are worried about changing from brand-name drugs, marketed by familiar companies like Pfizer and Eli Lilly, to “no-name” generic ones marketed by companies that only industry insiders have heard of.

Dr. Anthony Komaroff, editor in chief of the Harvard Health Letter, tackles the brand-versus-generic issue in the February 2012 issue in an answer to a reader’s more specific question about switching to the generic version of Lipitor.

Generic Lipitor is called atorvastatin or, sometimes, atorvastatin calcium.

The FDA is legally required to determine that generic products are “bioequivalent” to brand-name drugs, which means that they produce similar blood concentrations of the same chemical, Dr. Komaroff notes in the “Ask the Doctor” column of the Health Letter.

Independent researchers have compared generics and brand-name drugs, and the vast majority have concluded that the generic versions are just as safe and effective as the brand-name drugs, says Dr. Komaroff, citing as an example an analysis of 47 studies of various heart medicines conducted by a Harvard colleague, Dr. Aaron Kesselheim.

(Dr. Kesselheim’s analysis did not include a comparison of generic atorvastatin with Lipitor. But more recent research has, and it showed that they were equally effective at improving cholesterol levels, according to Dr. Komaroff.)

Some people are troubled by the fact that many generic drugs are manufactured overseas. Dr. Komaroff’s response: the FDA regulates the manufacture of all drugs sold in the United States, which is reassuring, but that the agency hasn’t been given the budget it needs to adequately carry out its responsibility.

The takeaway: “I’ll be switching”

Here’s Dr. Komaroff’s bottom line about whether it makes sense to switch to the generic version of Lipitor:

So I can’t give you an absolute guarantee that generic atorvastatin will be equal to brand-name Lipitor. But I can tell you this: I take Lipitor and I’ll be switching to generic atorvastatin, so I will be following my own advice (something my wife has suggested that I should do more often).

You can read the complete article on the Harvard Health website.

Related Information: Harvard Health Letter


  1. RockyBob

    Or switching to nothing. Four years ago I switched to nothing. Since then memory has improved, pre-diabetes has stabilized, peripheral neuropathy has stabilized, muscle strength has returned and I feel as young at 66 as I’ve felt in the last twenty years. Cholesterol is currently 640, with LDL 540 and coronary arteries are whistle clean by EBCT. Stress ultrasound shows my heart is “like a 41 year old”. Nobody has a clue why, and I’ve found no cardiologist who is even particularly interested. Bottom line is don’t take any statin without understanding exactly how it is helping you. Ask why you should lower your cholesterol when some people have astronomical values and no plaque. Weak statistical correlations shouldn’t suffice.

  2. Daniel Haszard

    Actos is produced by Takeda Industries and co-marketed by Eli Lilly.
    Eli Lilly Zyprexa can *cause* diabetes.
    I took Zyprexa olanzapine a powerful Lilly schizophrenic drug for 4 years it was prescribed to me off-label for post traumatic stress disorder was ineffective costly and gave me diabetes.
    Eli Lilly’s #1 cash cow Zyprexa drug sale $65 billion dollars so far,has a ten times greater risk of causing type 2 diabetes over the non-user of Zyprexa. So,here we have a conflict of interest that this same company Eli Lilly also is a big profiteer of diabetes treatment.
    (Actos works as an insulin *sensitizer*)
    Sooooo,Eli Lilly pushes a drug (Zyprexa) that can cause diabetes…. then turn around sell you the drugs (Actos) to treat the diabetes that in turn can cause cancer!
    What a terrible conflict of interest!
    — Daniel Haszard

    • Geovana

      I need a price on lotipir with humana insurance and without insurance ..I got charged a copay of 38.00 at my pharmany today what if I dont have insurance what is the price with no insurance? its very confusing .thanks

  3. Daniel Haszard

    Association Between Zyprexa olanzapine and Hyperglycemia.
    There is concern Zyprexa,like other atypical antipsychotic drugs, has the potential to cause metabolic disorders, particularly hyperglycemia (excess sugar) and diabetes. Atypical antipsychotics cause the body to metabolize fat instead of carbohydrates, leading to insulin resistance to the excess carbohydrates. At the same time they promote fat accumulation.I was a patient back in 1996-2000 who was a subject of Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa ‘viva’ Zyprexa’ off label sales promotion.I was given it as an ineffective costly treatment for PTSD It gave me diabetes as a side effect.–Daniel Haszard

Commenting has been closed for this post.