Pfizer plans direct-to-consumer platform for Covid and migraine drugs

Pfizer plans direct-to-consumer platform for Covid and migraine drugs
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Pfizer is developing an online platform for patients to order medicine including anti-Covid drug Paxlovid and a migraine nasal spray, according to people familiar with the matter, in the latest push by drugmakers to cut out industry middlemen and sell straight to consumers.

The website, which is expected to launch later this year, would connect customers in the US with independent telehealth consultants to prescribe the medications, while a drug-dispensing partner would fill and ship the prescriptions, the people said.

The website is part of an effort by pharma companies to sell drugs directly to patients and simplify a system for distributing medication that is facing growing criticism for its complexity. It comes after Eli Lilly, the world’s largest drugmaker by market value, launched a similar platform in an industry first earlier this year.

Pfizer products such as Paxlovid, combined Covid and flu test Lucira, and recently approved migraine nasal spray Zavzpret will be available on the site. Several other migraine medications are also likely to be available to order, to help ease pressure on prescribers amid a shortage of neurologists in the US.

The plan comes months after the launch of LillyDirect, which gave patients direct access to Lilly’s popular weight loss drug Zepbound, alongside 13 other products including migraine treatment Emgality. Lilly uses online pharmacies Truepill and Amazon Pharmacy to dispense its medicines, in a move driven in part by huge demand for its popular weight-loss drugs.

The direct-to-consumer push was one of several strategic priorities laid out by Pfizer’s longtime chief executive Albert Bourla for the year ahead, the people included. It comes at a challenging time for the drugmaker, which is hoping to convince investors of its post-pandemic growth potential after $93bn of revenues from Covid vaccines and treatments during the pandemic receded faster than expected.

The market value of Pfizer, which is set to report its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, has fallen to $145bn, less than half of its pandemic-era peak in late 2021.

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More than a decade ago, Pfizer experimented with direct-to-consumer sales for anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor as a means of trying to stave off generic competition when the blockbuster drug was coming off-patent.

The US drugmaker last year launched a collaboration with digital health company Ada Health to help patients understand if they met criteria to be prescribed Covid treatments such as Paxlovid. Pfizer at present refers users on its patient website looking to access migraine medications to a third party. The new platform would pull together these absurd offerings, the people said.

Timothy Mackey, professor of global health at of California San Diego, predicted that other pharma companies would probably follow Eli Lilly and Pfizer. “All it takes is one large company like Eli Lilly to do it and then more risk-averse companies follow suit,” he said.

Pharma groups were realizing that “the best way to convert customers is through patient portals where they can act as a consumer in medicine,” added Mackey.

“They can go to [the] website, they can get the information they need, they can be linked to a prescriber and then a pharmacy, and do all those things independent of a primary care provider.”

Pfizer said the company had “a history of and an ongoing commitment to providing timely and accurate information about our medicines and vaccines, and resources to help access them, so that [patients] “They can make informed decisions about their healthcare, together with a medical professional.”

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