AstraZeneca called Prilosec “the Purple Pill,” but the heartburn medication was more than just a colorful tablet. Considered one of the most successful prescription drugs of all time, Prilosec global sales peaked in 2000 at $6 billion. By then AstraZeneca was already planning for patent expiration in 2001. That year, the company launched Nexium, another heartburn medication that AstraZeneca markets as the new Purple Pill. Stripped of its colorful moniker, Prilosec is now sold over-the-counter for less than $1 per pill; Nexium generally costs three times as much. Last year it took in $5.7 billion in global sales.
Nexium’s success has not been without controversy. AstraZeneca is facing class actions in state courts in California, Florida and Massachusetts over claims that the company deliberately misled customers into paying more for Nexium once Prilosec went off patent. A federal class action in Delaware is currently on appeal.
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