AstraZeneca unit loses patent rights

Top Quote An English judge has dealt a blow to AstraZeneca by overruling the patent rights of MedImmune, its subsidiary, to a screening technique used in drugs including Roche’s blockbuster eye treatment drug ranibizumab. End Quote
  • (1888PressRelease) July 07, 2011 - The High Court ruled that MedImmune’s two patents were invalid, clearing the way for Roche and Novartis, its European marketing partner, to produce the drug without paying royalties to their Anglo-Swedish rival.

    The intellectual property dispute between MedImmune and Novartis could have serious financial implications for AstraZeneca, which is fighting the same issue in other European courts.

    The dispute centred on a biotechnology screening method called “phage display” on which MedImmune and the UK Medical Research Council had claimed intellectual property rights.

    A judgment in MedImmune’s favour would have been a blow to the commercial prospects for ranibizumab, known by its brand Lucentis, which treats age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye condition.

    However, Mr Justice Arnold rejected the claim brought by MedImmune against Novartis on Lucentis, concluding in a 261-page judgment: “As MedImmune concedes, it follows that both patents are invalid.”

    Lawyers said the case was important because the ruling had invalidated two patents for lack of inventive step and priority date. Pharmaceutical companies that may be paying to use the screening method will be watching this finding.

    The UK was the first jurisdiction to rule on the case, which is set to be appealed, but the two companies are also litigating over the patent rights in other countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

    AstraZeneca said: “We continue to believe that the patents are valid and infringed by Novartis’ activities in respect of Lucentis; accordingly, MedImmune will be seeking permission to appeal.” Novartis declined to comment.

    Genentech, now controlled by Roche, has been marketing Lucentis, while licensing the rights to the drug in Europe to Novartis. Its control over the AMD market has been weakened by a study funded by the US federal National Eye Institute, which argued that Avastin, a similar and cheaper drug, was just as effective.

    Analysts have also cautioned that Lucentis faces fresh competition from aflibercept, Regeneron and Bayer’s drug.

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