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Expand chart
Data: Company filings; Note: First nine months of 2019 shown; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Lipitor, the cholesterol-lowering medication that has become the gold standard of statins, continues to generate roughly $2 billion per year in sales for Pfizer, even though its patent expired eight years ago.

The big picture: Almost all of Pfizer's Lipitor sales now come from China and other emerging markets. But Lipitor's ability to remain a blockbuster drug, even with so many generic competitors that cost pennies per pill, shows how distorted the global pharmaceutical system can be.

By the numbers: Worldwide Lipitor sales peaked in 2006, at almost $13 billion, with more than 60% coming from the U.S.

  • After Lipitor's patent lapsed in late 2011, sales started declining precipitously in the U.S. as numerous generic atorvastatin pills hit the market.
  • But since 2014, annual sales have hovered around $2 billion thanks to the gigantic Chinese market.
  • Pfizer has frequently won bids to sell Lipitor in Chinese hospitals, "as they could more easily offer quality assurances for their higher-cost medicines," Bloomberg reported earlier this year.
  • But after losing a large hospital bid last year, Pfizer lowered Lipitor's price in China by 30% "in the hope patients would buy it privately," the Financial Times reported.

Between the lines: Lipitor is mostly bought overseas but holds a small pulse domestically. Pfizer is on pace to sell roughly $100 million of the statin in the U.S. this year.

  • That isn't a lot of money broadly speaking. But it still means patients, health insurance programs and taxpayers are paying upwards of $14 per Lipitor pill when generic equivalents cost less than a dime per pill.
  • Pfizer advertises a Lipitor coupon card for the uninsured and those with commercial insurance — the type of card that is outlawed in Medicare and Medicaid because it's viewed as a kickback.
  • Pfizer didn't immediately respond to questions.

The bottom line: Lipitor remains a global money-maker for Pfizer despite generic competition.

Go deeper: Generic drugs aren't always favored

Go deeper

Updated 35 mins ago - Sports

Swimmer Chase Kalisz first American to win Tokyo Olympics gold medal

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz has become the first Team United States Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: The Rio 2016 silver medalist's winning time in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final was 4 minutes 9.42 seconds. His teammate Jay Litherland took silver, .86 seconds behind him. Moments later, Kieran Smith grabbed a third medal for the U.S. when he won bronze in the 400-meter freestyle.

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

DOJ won't investigate nursing home deaths in N.Y. and 2 other states

People who've lost loved ones due to COVID-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a March protest and vigil in New York City. As of this month, Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Department of Justice has decided not to launch a civil rights investigation into whether policies in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan contributed to pandemic deaths in nursing homes, according to a letter sent to Republicans.

Why it matters: The Trump DOJ requested data from the three states plus New Jersey last August "amid still-unanswered questions about whether some states, especially New York, inadvertently worsened the pandemic death toll by requiring nursing homes to accept residents previously hospitalized for COVID-19," per AP.

Former Blizzard CEO says he "failed” women at the studio

Image: Neville Elder / Getty Images

Mike Morhaime, who co-founded and worked at video game studio Blizzard for 28 years, has apologized publicly for toxic work conditions at his former studio, which is now the subject of a discrimination and harassment lawsuit by the state of California.

Why it matters: Morhaime is no longer at Blizzard, but was its leader for most of its existence and therefore was in charge when much of what is alleged in California’s suit would have occurred.