Drugmaker Pfizer said Monday that it would begin selling its iconic erectile dysfunction drug Viagra online - a prescription is still required - in hopes of boosting profits and thwarting counterfeit online pharmacies.
As noted in Linda Johnson's Associated Press story, the pharmaceutical industry will watch this closely because it could change the dynamics of how drugs are delivered through the many layers of the current system.
Pfizer will market the drug through viagra.com, but CVSCaremark will handle the online processing. Patients must still get a doctor's prescription and the web site walks patients through the paperwork (insurance, billing information) required.
CVS is mostly known to consumers as a retail drug store chain. But the company has diversified, becoming a huge player behind the scenes as a pharmacy benefit manger and mail-order drug distributor.
A pharmacy benefits manager is usually hired by a company to manage the prescription portion of an employer-sponsored health-care plan. That often involves filling and renewing prescriptions via mail.
In that way, CVS is a competitor to Express Scripts, which is the largest mail-order and PBM company. But wholesale drug companies like Valley Forge-based AmerisourceBergen are in the middle of the current supply chain. So, too, are fellow wholesalers McKesson and Cardinal Health.
As for counterfeiting, plenty of overseas online pharmacies tout cheaper and generic Viagra. That should be a warning signal for consumers shopping online because there is no generic Viagra available. Pfizer's patent does not expire until 2020. Other brand-name drug companies have similar version of erectile dysfunction drugs.
Aside from Pfizer's profit concerns, the health concern is that counterfeit drugs could have who-knows-what ingredients or the proper amount of the active ingredient. Viagra has its own set of side effects, but they are listed in the official label.
"There are almost 24 million searches a year for Viagra online," Victor Clavelli, a senior director and marketing group leader of Pfizer's primary care business unit, said in a statement. "By offering men with ED convenient access and a legitimate alternative to purchase Viagra online, our hope is that Pfizer will help rein in the distribution of fake ED products."