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Ranbaxy Halts Generic Lipitor Production

Fri, 11/30/2012 - 1:40pm
Linda A. Johnson, AP Business Writer

TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) -- Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals Inc. has halted production of generic cholesterol drug Lipitor while it investigates how tiny glass particles got into dozens of batches of the drug that were recalled in November.

The Food and Drug Administration said Ranbaxy, a subsidiary of India's Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, won't resume manufacturing generic Lipitor, or atorvastatin, until it determines the problem's cause and fixes it.

The problem-plagued drugmaker has been operating under increased FDA scrutiny since last December because of quality lapses at multiple factories over several years.

The recall covered 41 batches of 10-, 20- and 40-milligram doses of atorvastatin tablets.

A Ranbaxy spokesman did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press Friday.

Several other companies also make generic versions of Lipitor, which was the world's top-selling drug for years.

Ranbaxy notified pharmacies and other customers about the recall on Nov. 9 but didn't publicly disclose it until Nov. 23. It covers lots, or batches, of atorvastatin in bottles containing 90 or 500 tablets. The recall was due to "possible contamination with very small glass particles similar to the size of a grain of sand," according to the FDA.

The regulatory agency said it has not received any reports of patients being harmed by the recalled product. It said its initial assessment indicates the possibility of patient harm appears to be low and any harm would be temporary.

The FDA recommended that consumers consult with their pharmacist to determine if they received any of the recalled atorvastatin, should stop taking it immediately and should ask their doctor or pharmacist about obtaining an alternative product.

Pfizer Inc.'s Lipitor and the generic versions on the U.S. market are taken by millions of patients. The cholesterol-lowering medicine brought Pfizer $13 billion in annual sales at its peak, but it got U.S. generic competition last Nov. 30.

FDA said it does not anticipate a shortage of atorvastatin but it is working with the other manufacturers to ensure there's enough supply.

Last Friday, Ranbaxy filed a notice with the Bombay Stock Exchange stating the company's investigation would be completed within two weeks, but that after that temporary disruption to the U.S. supply, the company expected to resume shipments here. That no longer appears to be the case.

Ranbaxy's manufacturing deficiencies, dating to 2006, led to a lengthy investigation and sanctions by the FDA. During the probe, federal investigators found Ranbaxy didn't properly test the shelf life and other safety factors of its drugs and then lied about the results.

In mid-2008, the FDA barred Ranbaxy from shipping into the U.S more than 30 different drugs made at factories in India. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged the company lied about ingredients and formulations of some medications.

In early 2009, the FDA said it would not consider any new applications from Ranbaxy to sell in the U.S. any products made at the troubled factories. But last Nov. 30, on the day Lipitor's U.S. patent expired, FDA granted permission for Ranbaxy to sell a generic version made at a different factory.

A few weeks later, the FDA and the company signed an agreement called a consent decree that requires Ranbaxy to improve manufacturing procedures, ensure data on its products is accurate and undergo extra oversight and review by an independent third party for five years. Ranbaxy at the time set aside $500 million to cover potential criminal and civil liability stemming from the Justice Department investigation.

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