Erectile dysfunction drug Viagra entered the market in 1998 and became a worldwide sensation and synonymous with the condition.
The drug is manufactured from Pfizer’s Ringaskiddy facility in Cork, Ireland, and - with Viagra losing exclusivity in the UK and Ireland last Friday - questions have been asked to whether the plant will suffer a similar fate to a nearby facility which was recently put up for sale as a direct result of patent expiration.
For now, however, “Ireland remains a key strategic location for Pfizer with many of [its] leading and new medicines manufactured here,” spokesperson Karen O’Keeffe told in-Pharmatechnologist.com.
A series of changes to the firm’s manufacturing operations have been implemented in Ireland, she said, “to reflect changing global demand and declining volumes following patent expiry of a number of key medicines.”
One-time bestseller Lipitor lost its US patent in November 2011 and Pfizer saw an immediate decline in sales and over-capacity at its Little Island manufacturing site – also in Cork - which led to an initial job loss and, last month, an announcement the plant was to be shuttered.
However, O’Keeffe said “Pfizer is exploring the potential for future investment in operations in Ireland” adding that it had recently invested $200m (€152m) at its Grange Castle biotech plant in Dublin, as well having four of its new medicines manufactured for the global market from Irish facilities.
A Pfizer source told The Irish Times that end of the patent was “not a huge concern” at the site, as Viagra “was never in constant production,” and even at its height represented only 15 percent of API manufacture at one of the plants at Ringaskiddy.
“What we would have was two production campaigns a year each lasting a couple of months where we would makes tonnes of Sildenafil to be sent to a central store in Brussels and drawn on as required,” the source told the paper.
Any casualness at Ringaskiddy may also be down to the US patent for ‘the little blue pill’ not expiring until 2020, after gaining an extension on the original March 2010 date following a lawsuit with generic manufacturer Teva.
Teva, in the meantime, has announced it plans to launch its generic Viagra, Sildenafil, in countries where the patent has expired, according to Israeli publication Globes.