15 August 2013

How Big Pharma "repackages" existing pills

Excerpts from a column at Salon:
The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly makes Sarafem. Its name is a rework of “seraphim,” a Hebrew word meaning “angel,” a word with obvious female overtones. Its packaging also conjures up stereotypical female associations. The pill is encased in a pretty pink-and-lavender shell, and is heralded by Lilly as a wonder cure for this distinctly female premenstrual disorder. So far so good.

Now here comes the interesting bit. What Eli Lilly initially concealed from the millions of women taking the pill is that the pill is actually Prozac. Chemically,  Sarafem and Prozac are exactly the same. The only difference between them is that their names and packaging are different. Sarah, like thousands of other women up and down the country, was taking Prozac and didn’t know it.

There are a lot of possible interpretations for why Eli Lilly engaged in what you or I may be tempted to see as corporate deception. The first is that it obviously saved the company a great deal of money. It is cheaper to repackage existing pills than it is to develop new ones. In addition, Eli Lilly’s patent protections on Prozac were running out a year after Sarafem would be released, so marketing Prozac under the new trade name would effectively extend patent protections for many more years. Money matters...

By rebranding Prozac as Sarafem, Eli Lilly divided the one chemical into two separate pills for two different disorders. One pill continued to be marketed as an antidepressant. The other they marketed as a so-called premenstrual corrective. A new pill was born not because a new chemical had been found, but because a popular brand had been changed...
More at the link.


  1. The wording suggests that this actually extend the patent on prozac. I would have thought it would just generate a new patent for the pill when it is marketed for it's new purpose? Does anybody know how that would work?

    1. However the pharmaceutical company wanted it to until it gets successfully challenged in court 5-10 years and billions of dollars in profits later.


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