Updated: December 8, 2011 01:28 IST

Lord of Atorvastatin

Thomas K. Thomas
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Arun Sawhney
Arun Sawhney

After launching the generic version of Lipitor in the U.S., the company is eyeing a major share of the world's largest selling drug.

On December 2 when Arun Sawhney, CEO and MD of Ranbaxy Laboratories, walked into a packed hall to brief employees on the launch of its blockbuster cholesterol lowering Atorvastatin in the U.S., he was greeted with cheers and clapping. Finally, Ranbaxians had a reason to celebrate as the launch came on the back of uncertainty due to a ban imposed by the US drug regulator in 2009.

The company had after all launched a copy of the world's largest selling drug, Lipitor. Mr. Sawhney told the attendees that they were carrying the weight of history because the story of Ranbaxy's entry into statins began in 1997. The then management of Ranbaxy had to take a crucial decision — to develop statins based on fungi which was ruling the market then or to develop a new cholesterol lowering molecule synthetically. “Lovastatin was giving way and Simvastatin was ruling the roost and somewhere Ranbaxy decided to develop the new statin because clinically it had show superiority to existing statins,” Mr. Sawhney told the employees.

And 14 years later, after launching the generic version of Lipitor in the U.S., Ranbaxy Laboratories is now eyeing a major share of the world's largest selling drug. “It is my belief that we should be the Lord of Atorvastatin globally. Do we have the power and capability? Yes. Have we demonstrated that? Yes, we have the largest Atorvastatin brand in India; in Finland, we have a 60-65 per cent market share; and we were the first to launch in South Africa. We have also launched in the Ukraine and Romania. If we are successful in these countries, we will be successful anywhere,” Mr. Sawhney said.

Lipitor, chemically known as Atorvastatin, is the largest selling drug with global sales of over $10 billion in 2010.

Until now, Pfizer was the only pharmaceutical major selling the drug in the U.S. But in 2008 it signed an agreement with Ranbaxy under which the Indian company was able to launch the drug in the U.S. last week with a 180-day exclusivity period.

“When it is a competitive world, it is my hunch that even beyond the 180-day period, Ranbaxy will remain the dominant generic Atorvastatin player in the U.S.,” Mr. Sawhney said, intensifying the battle with Pfizer and other US drug makers who plan to launch the drug.

Pfizer had earlier said that it would keep one-third of the market share.

Describing the events that developed around the launch of generic Lipitor in the U.S., Mr. Sawhney said that it was nothing short of a thriller.

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