Legal Battles Rage over Hepatitis-C Drugs

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The Wall Street Journal reports Hepatitis-C drug sales could amount to $20 billion annually by 2020, sparking an intense legal battle among the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies.

The standard pharmaceutical patent battle involves a branded drug maker’s attempts to prevent competitors from selling cheaper generic versions of their drugs. But in the case of Gilead Science’s release of its groundbreaking hepatitis-C treatment, Sovaldi, other branded drug makers are claiming that Gilead Sciences has committed patent infringement, insisting on a slice of Gilead’s revenue.

Without a patent on the active compounds in Solvadi, competitors cannot market the drugs. However, companies can obtain patents for a “method of use” that utilizes products belonging to other patent owners. One of the legal disputes involves method of use, as drug maker AbbVie patented the idea of using two drugs belonging to Gilead (one of which is Sovaldi) together. AbbVie insists that Gilead would be in violation of its patent if the company decides to create a combination pill using the two drugs. Gilead disagrees, insisting it has the exclusive right to use its own drugs, including Sovaldi and other products containing Sovaldi.

Merck and Roche, two other drug companies, have also claimed rights to the hepatitis-C treatment.

NCPA Senior Fellow Devon Herrick recently authored a report describing the increasing importance of specialty drugs in the United States. Specialty drugs, such as Sovaldi, are highly advanced and expensive formulas. While specialty drugs comprise only 1 percent of all prescriptions, they account for one-fourth of all prescription drug spending.

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