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Pfizer benefited from some lucky timing: Lipitor went on sale in 1997, the year the Food and Drug Administration first allowed drug ads targeting consumers.
So Pfizer spent tens of millions on ads, including on the popular drama "ER," first urging patients to "Know Your Numbers" and then showing patients discussing how Lipitor helped them get their cholesterol numbers below guideline goals.
Meanwhile, health groups kept lowering the cholesterol targets in national guidelines, making millions more patients good candidates for statin treatment, as new research showed the link between cholesterol levels and consequences such as heart attacks. All those new patients boosted sales for the whole statin class, particularly Lipitor.
The Lipitor promotion team set new standards for a marketing campaign. They repeatedly visited family doctors as well as cardiologists, and blanketed patients with data showing that Lipitor was best at lowering cholesterol. They stressed to doctors nervous about safety that Lipitor’s lowest dose worked as well as rivals’ highest doses. They gave free samples of the white pills and sometimes bought lunch for the office staff.
The company continued research on Lipitor, through this year conducting more than 400 studies, costing roughly $1 billion and including more than 80,000 patients. The studies have shown how Lipitor helped patients with heart problems, diabetes, stroke risk and other conditions, by preventing heart attacks and strokes and reducing plaque buildup in arteries.
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