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Pfizer has filed lawsuits against five online pharmacies for selling an unapproved copy of Pfizer's top-selling cholesterol medicine - Lipitor - the company says in a statement.

The suits were filed in US district courts in Delaware and Connecticut against Generic Lipitors, Online Rx DrugStore, WorldMedsRX, B. M. International, and Offshore Pharma.

Pfizer says the sites market a product called Storvas, which is advertised as being manufactured by Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals Inc of India, a country that doesn't recognise drug patents.

The Pfizer lawsuits claim damages for infringement of Pfizer's patent and trademark rights for Lipitor. The complaints also seek to remove references to Lipitor in advertising materials and to eliminate computer links that misdirect patients to an illegal, unapproved product.

This is the first time a big pharmaceutical firm has tried to halt the sale of illegal generic medicines on the Net. Many dubious online pharmacies, companies which typically fail to provide a contact address or phone number, often sell 'generic variations' of medicines, in particular generic or herbal Viagra. The only FDA-approved brand, however, is Viagra produced by Pfizer, which owns the patent on its active ingredient.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gets dozens of reports of counterfeit drugs. They may look like the medicines the doctor would prescribe, but they often contain little or no active ingredients, or additional ingredients that could have serious side-effects.

Pfizer filed another suit on 12 April against Look4Generics.com in US District Court in Delaware. The company noted that the Internet provides easy access to websites that sell unapproved or counterfeit pharmaceutical products that could put patient health at risk. ®

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