I must confess, I was shocked when I read about this. Imigran going over-the-counter (OTC) is huge for sufferers of migraines in the UK. Sold as Imitrex here in the US, it will be going OTC sometime during the middle of June. This is also big news for GSK, the makers of Imigran/Imitrex. Revenues for the drug in 2004 topped $1.10bn from the US alone, and while I can’t find the numbers for the UK, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was popular over there as well.
In the United States when a drug goes OTC, you typically see a huge price drop because people are unwilling to pay what it actually cost their insurers when a drug is prescription-only. I’ve touched on this briefly in the past — people have no concept of the costs associated with medicine. You see medications go OTC like this when their patent protection is about to run out: mandatory generic substitution robs Big Pharma of revenues if a drug stays behind the counter. In the case of a relatively safe, proven drug like Imigran/Imitrex, making it available OTC can only mean more money for the manufacturer. People know the brand name, not the generic one, so that’s what they seek out. This is the same reason that Tylenol and Motrin outsell their generic counterparts.
The cost for the consumer will increase from a £6.65 flat fee for X number of tablets (whatever is allowed) to £7.99 for two tablets of unspecified strength. The convenience of not needing a prescription will almost certainly outweigh the increased price. Profit per unit sold will be lower, but the higher volume should more than compensate for this. Because of the different pricing structure of UK prescription drugs, it is unclear what the third party (in this case, the NHS) has been kicking in up behind the scenes. One thing is certain: GSK had to raise the price for consumers because if they had they not, you can bet the government would have been pretty unhappy — governments always get the most preferred pricing. GSK is certain that this move will increase their profits, otherwise they wouldn’t have lobbied for it to go OTC.
Eventually, we will see more drugs going OTC like this in the US as the number of PharmDs slowly surpasses the number of RPhs. Dispensing of Imigran will still be monitored by the pharmacists dispensing the medication.
[tags]Imigran, Imitrex, GSK, sumatriptan, migraines, medicine[/tags]