Clarke Canfield

Generic drugs are fast becoming an option for Fluffy and Fido

By Clarke Canfield
Associated Press / July 6, 2011

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PORTLAND, Maine - When Samantha Lowe’s 12-year-old Labrador retriever needed anti-inflammatories to ease her arthritis, she found herself facing the same question humans face when it comes to prescriptions: Name-brand drug, or generic? She chose the generic.

As patents expire for branded drugs, more generics are finding their way into veterinarian’s offices, where they offer the potential of big savings for owners.

An estimated 10 percent of animal health drugs are now generic varieties, up from an estimated 5 percent five years ago, and many believe generics will account for half of all pet medications within a decade, said Robert Fountain II, president of Fountain Agricounsel LLC, a consulting company in Connecticut.

Veterinarians can now prescribe any of four types of drugs for animals - human-approved branded and generics, or pet-approved branded and generics.

While the animal market is a fraction of what is spent on prescriptions for people, it’s still a big-money industry. In 2009, $6.4 billion was spent in the United States on animal medicine, with 60 percent of that spent on companion animals, the Animal Health Institute says.

The pet prescription market for the most part has been dominated by large companies such as Pfizer and Merck. But a number of other companies are now developing generic pet drugs.

Putney Inc. is one of those companies. Started five years ago in Portland, it launched its first product - carprofen, a generic version of Rimadyl, a painkiller marketed by Pfizer - in 2009. Its second product, a generic ketamine used for anesthesia and sedation, came out last year.

Putney plans to launch a third pet generic this year or next, and has another 20 in the pipeline, said CEO Jean Hoffman.

Americans fill 72 percent of their own prescriptions with generics, she said. But with so few pet-approved drugs having generic equivalents, Hoffman said there’s plenty of opportunity for new generics to be introduced as Americans treat their dogs and cats for everything from diabetes to anxiety. Generic drugs on average offer savings of about 25 percent, she said.

Veterinarians are slowly increasing the number of generic prescriptions they are writing. At the Forest Avenue Veterinary Hospital in Portland, generics now make up a majority of the prescriptions that are filled, said veterinarian Bennett Wilson.

He prescribed carprofen instead of Rimadyl for Maggie, Lowe’s black Lab.

A number of patents on branded pet drugs have already expired and many more are scheduled to expire.

Fountain expects the largest companies to create generic versions of their branded drugs. Those companies are at an advantage because they will be able to turn around a generic without FDA approval because the drugs will be the same as their branded ones, he said.

Clarke Canfield writes for the Associated Press.