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Brazilian researchers say they have developed a method of producing a much less expensive version of Pfizer's blockbuster cholesterol-fighting drug Lipitor, known generically as atorvastatin. With Pfizer's patent protection on Lipitor in Brazil due to expire on Tuesday, the researchers say their discovery will help poorer populations stay healthier by making the drug more affordable.
Scientists at Sao Paulo's Unicamp University say their method of producing the active ingredient in Lipitor, will have implications for countless people in the developing world with heart problems caused by high cholesterol.
The ingredient is called atorvastatin and it works by inhibiting a cholesterol-producing enzyme in the liver.
Lower cholesterol levels in the blood usually translate to more efficient blood-flow and a healthier heart.
For Pfizer, Lipitor has generated billions of dollars but in poorer nations, the drug has been too expensive and therefore unavaliable to most people.
Unicamp University chemist Luiz Carlos Dias says he and his team now have the means to dramatically reduce the costs of production.
[Luiz Carlos Dias, Unicmap Chemist]:
"If we manage to prepare these raw materials or these active principals here in Brazil, not only will the end price be lower for the Brazilian consumer, but we will also be able to export this. I gave an example citing South American countries, but certainly this may be sold and exported to the entire world."
The scientists are now waiting for appoval from Brazil's food and drug agency, before their formula can be used on an industrial scale.
Dias says he hopes it won't take too long as there's an enormous population who could live longer as a result.