(NaturalNews) The European Commission has approved a chewable version of Pfizer's blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor, for use in children over the age of 10.
Pfizer has announced that following this approval, it will apply for a six-month patent extension for Lipitor, which is the best-selling drug in the world.
Both the United States and the European Union offer six-month patent extensions as an incentive for drug companies to conduct safety and effectiveness tests of their products in children, which is not required by law. Based on Pfizer's tests of Lipitor in children, the United States has already granted such an extension and the European Union is expected to follow suit.
Lipitor pulled in nearly $13 billion for Pfizer in 2009 alone, accounting for 23 percent of the company's sales income. The patent on the drug is due to expire at the end of November 2011, which has set the company scrambling for ways to increase Lipitor sales before then. A six-month extension alone could bring the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
In 2002, the FDA approved Lipitor for use in children with a genetic condition leading to dangerously high cholesterol levels. However, the drugs are now regularly being prescribed to children whose cholesterol levels are heightened due to obesity.
The rate of childhood obesity has doubled since the mid-1990s. It now stands at 17 percent.
Lipitor is one of the drugs known as statins, which lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Research suggests that this may lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in some people. The drugs can carry severe side effects, however, which has led to concerns that they may be over-prescribed. Lipitor, for example, can produce muscle pain and weakness, and should never be used by pregnant or nursing women, or people with liver problems.