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Mary Shomon

Controversial Drugmaking Giant Pfizer is Now in the Thyroid Drug Business

By October 19, 2010

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The top-selling pharmaceutical company in the world, Pfizer, is now in the business of making thyroid drugs, after their acquisition of drugmaker King Pharmaceuticals. Earlier this month, King announced it would be selling the company to Pfizer, Inc. for $3.6 billion in cash. Pfizer is the manufacturer of a number of superstar drugs, including Lipitor, Viagra, and Celebrex.

(Some shareholders have filed lawsuits attempting to block the deal from going through, but it's not likely to prevent the deal from being finalized.)

Among other drugs, King is the manufacturer of three thyroid medications:

It's hard to say at this point what this acquisition may mean for thyroid patients. Perhaps Pfizer will step up the marketing of Levoxyl, giving Synthroid stiffer competition in the thyroid drug marketplace. While considered equivalent to Synthroid, Levoxyl has always been priced substantially less than Synthroid, and it's possible that the Pfizer acquisition may result in either an increase in the cost of Levoxyl, or a reduction in the cost of Synthroid.

On the positive side, Pfizer owning Cytomel, a synthetic T3 drug, may mean more visibility and awareness of use of T3 as an addition to levothyroxine treatment for hypothyroidism, a therapy that recent research has shown to be preferred by a majority of patients.

In general, though, I have to wonder if this is good news for thyroid patients. Pfizer is regularly embroiled in controversy, and has, over the past decade, tangled with the Department of Justice multiple times, pleading guilty to fraud for illegal marketing of its drugs and other health frauds. And thyroid patients already have to contend with Synthroid's manufacturer and thyroid drug juggernaut Abbott Labs, the company that wields undue marketing influence over professional thyroid organizations and endocrinologists. And of course, thyroid patients have had many years of problems with Forest Labs, maker of Armour, Thyrolar and Levothroid. In addition to product problems, availability issues, and backorders of their thyroid drugs, Forest is frequently in the news due to numerous allegations of fraud and illegal marketing. And we can't forget Genzyme, maker of Thyrogen, which has been under investigation for serious problems with quality control and product contamination that pose a danger to thyroid patients.

Do you think that Pfizer buying King -- and taking over ownership of Levoxyl, Cytomel and Tapazole, will be good or bad for thyroid patients? Take our poll now.

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October 24, 2010 at 3:11 am
(1) Jill says:

Interesting timing, since I just transitioned to Cytomel and Levoxyl only 5 weeks ago after 3 years on Armour. It would be tough for anyone to be able to predict whether Pfizer will negatively or positively impact Cytomel or Levoxyl. Increased visibility of T3 as an alternate or addition to standard T4 therapy would be fantastic, but I wouldn’t want to pay more for additional marketing of Cytomel as the cost is already too high. For potential impact on quality, if you do a search of Pfizer FDA recall, there will be plenty of hits, as with any pharmaceutical company, so impact on quality of product is questionable. Will the drugs still be manufactured at the current King facility? If so, one might guess that acquisition of King by Pfizer will have little impact on quality of product as long as current quality standards are maintained.
My major concern is cost. Cytomel is extremely expensive for someone like me who has no insurance or job. I’ve also read that some insurance no longer pays for Cytomel. The cheapest I could find at retail pharmacies for Cytomel was $106 for 60 tabs at 50 mcg, and Levoxyl was $24 for 60 tabs at 25 mcg for a total of $130 for 2 months at my current low dose. If I end up at a dose of 75 mcg Cytomel T3 and 12.5 mcg Levoxyl, my monthly cost will be $85. I’ve read that the T3 generic made by Paddock may not be as strong as Cytomel, the alternative Mylan generic T3 is very weak, and these generics would cost $73 monthly for the same dosages (saving only $12/mo), so I’ll stick with Cytomel and Levoxyl for now. There used to be Mexican Cynomel online for dirt cheap, but the online store vanished. Mexican Cynomel by Grossman is only slightly less potent according to what I’ve read, but doseage can always be adjusted, so if I could find a reliable online source for Mexican Cynomel, I’d definately try it. My Armour used to be $44 for 1 grain x 270 tabs or 3 months supply for me ($15/mo), so $85/mo Cytomel and Levoxyl is sticker shock!

October 24, 2010 at 4:21 am
(2) Jill says:

I converted to Cytomel and Levoxyl after 3 years on Armour, and many dreadful years on Levoxyl alone. 15 years ago, I was diagnosed with hypothyroid fibromyalgia. After years of low dose T4 (75mcg Levoxyl), I came to a point where my muscle pains were so bad that I could hardly walk, so I took myself off Levoxyl, and felt much better… though I wouldn’t recommend it as my TSH went above 30. On Armour, my temp ranged from 95 to 97.8, highest just after waking, dropping quickly, sometimes 92 degs after being outdoors in the cold. It took years to find a doctor that would try Armour or Cytomel, but I found one listed on the Armour site. I took 2-3 grains Armour for 3 years. The new formulation of Armour worked best as it seemed a bit stronger than old Armour. High cellulose makes it more sustained release, and it gave me a slightly higher body temp, but Armour didn’t relieve my symptoms. I also tried Nature-Throid, but it made me sleep over 10 hours and I felt horrid.

After researching thyroid hormone resistance (Dr John C Lowe and Dr Ken Holtorf), I ordered lab tests for reverse-T3 and free T3. As suspected, my reverse T3 was high. My body was converting T4 in Armour to inactive reverse-T3 rather than active T3, so I needed to raise T3 and lower T4 dose to lower conversion to reverse-T3. My Armour Dr wouldn’t prescribe T3, so I found a new doc. After doing research to determine whether I wanted to try Cytomel or Sustained-Release T3 (crushed Cytomel and methyl-cellulose in a gel cap), we started with SR-T3 and T4 Levoxyl, but SR-T3 was over 2x the Cytomel cost, so I now take 50mcg Cytomel + 25mcg Levoxyl. I’d like to get rid of T4 Levoxyl, but my doctor doesn’t agree, saying that you need to keep some T4 to allow liver conversion of T4 to T3. Some sites recommend complete removal of T4 to eliminate reverse-T3 entirely as it binds T3 receptors and blocks T3 effectiveness, but I’ll give low dose T4 a chance, and will retest for reverse-T3 later.

May 20, 2011 at 3:01 pm
(3) Nancy says:

I know this post is several months old, but thought I’d try to reach you anyway. My story is very similar to yours. I’m finally on T3 only for the last year, and my pain is 98% gone. I still have a rare fibro flareup, but it’s far from the daily pain I used to have. I found 2 great information/support websites:
thyroid-rt3.com and a RT3 group on yahoo groups. I get Cynomel from Mexico, and it’s been great. I hope you reply so we can share resources.

July 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm
(4) Carol says:

Where do you get your Cynomel in Mexico? They might not let you post a web address here, but if you could give me the name and I can google it that would be great!

July 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm
(5) Jerry says:

Hi Nancy, Are you able to share your source for cynomel? Is it the grossman product or something else?

September 5, 2011 at 12:05 am
(6) Renee says:

Nancy, if you’re on the boards I’d love to have a trusted resource to purchase Cynomel from Mexico. I’m currently taking compounded time released T3 for my Hashi condition. Seems it’s either inconsistent or not as absorbent due to fillers. Cytomel in the U.S. is very pricey for me, as I’m on a 150mcg dose and would need 3 tabs a day since the highest strength is 50mcg. Look forward to hearing from you and hope you are doing very well.

October 24, 2010 at 8:50 pm
(7) carole says:

There is no way I will ever go back on a synthetic thyroid drug again. Levoxyl, synthroid, none did a darn thing for me. Thyrolar 3 worked, but something happened, discontinued, I guess, and I could not get it any more. It wasn’t until I started Armour that I got any relief.

Hey, Jill, have your muscle pains gone away, or not hurt as bad? I, too have fibromyalgia. My Dr. also diagnosed me as thyroid hormone resistant about six years ago. Is there something to take beside the Armour to help with the pain? I take ibuprofen (advil or motrin), and sometimes aspirin, but they do not really take the pain away. If you know something I don’t know, please tell me: Yhanks

May 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm
(8) Nancy says:

Read my reply to Jill, it’s like your story.

September 5, 2011 at 12:17 am
(9) Renee says:

Have a good trusted source for Mexican Cynomel? Please share! Currently taking 150mcg compounded time release T3 for undiagnosed Hashi and over 20 years of levoxyl for hypothyroidism. You all know the story. I did not get better as I do not convert the T4 in levoxyl/synthroid to T3. Finally, on right track but frustrated because I’m just not getting the full boost I personally need and know is within my reach. Could be the compounded filler or inconsistencies. Guess the only other option is Cytomel, which I want to switch to and was shocked to find out the cost. Would be gr8 to try Cynomel. Have read it’s a good product and would definitely be easier on the budget.
Thank you, thank you, in advance…!

December 13, 2011 at 2:26 am
(10) jake says:

mymexicandrugstore dot org

March 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm
(11) Lori says:

They have suspended production of levoxyl indefinitely . Spoke to a company rep this morning. Now what?

March 8, 2013 at 8:01 pm
(12) caren says:

Lori, please tell us why they suspended Levoxyl, I’ve been taking it for years and am worried……

April 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm
(13) Jellybean says:

The FDA recalled it. I called the company, Pfizer, and they said it might not be available again until mid 2014. Something about an odor coming from the pills due to their storage. The wouldn’t tell me without a doubt if the existing meds are compromised in some way but they didn’t tell me it was unsafe to take. Sounds like you can take what you have left. I feel bad for everyone who depends on this specific drug for their thyroid.

May 17, 2013 at 6:44 am
(14) SouthernGal820 says:

I heard through a fairly reliable source that Pfizer had tried to “reformulate” the Levoxyl thus the problems. The current prescription I have was for 90 days and I got it at the beginning of all of the problems. I’m almost positive it’s not working for me because my joints are hurting which is my main symptom when my TSH is off – so have an appointment for Tuesday with my doc to discuss Nature-Throid. I also heard that because they most likely would not even start manufacturing again because by the time they did everyone would be converted to something new so there would be no market for the product. They should have left it at King in St. Petersburg FL because there were no problems while it was there.

July 7, 2013 at 10:25 pm
(15) Lois Lovins says:

I have started a petition with change.org to get Pfizer Pharmaceutical to restart the manufacturing of Levoxyl. It’s the only thyroid medicine that I have found to help without the side effects of the others. Please go to change.org and sign this petition.


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