AbbVie, partner ordered to pay $448M in AndroGel antitrust case brought by FTC

A U.S. judge ordered AbbVie and partner Besins Healthcare to pay $448 million over AndroGel antitrust claims brought by the U.S. government. (AbbVie)

Even as AbbVie defends against thousands of AndroGel liability cases, the company and partner Besins Healthcare must pay nearly $450 million for illegally blocking generic competition to the testosterone product with "baseless" patent litigation, a judge said.

U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle ordered the companies to pay $448 million after finding that competitor Perrigo would have entered the market with a generic in June 2013 if not for a "sham" patent lawsuit filed by AbbVie, as alleged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

An AbbVie representative said the company is "disappointed" with the result.

"We believe our conduct was lawful and the damages award is improper," she added. The company intends to appeal.

The FTC filed its lawsuit against AbbVie and other companies in 2014. At the time, the agency alleged AbbVie filed sham lawsuits against Perrigo and Teva, and that it entered an illegal "pay-for-delay" deal with Teva.

Last year, the court ruled that AbbVie's patent lawsuits against Teva and Perrigo were "baseless." It then held a nonjury trial that lasted three weeks focusing on issues of "subjective intent and monopoly power." The judge made his decision late last week. The FTC additionally asked for an injunction, but the judge rejected that request.

Still, FTC chairman Joe Simons said in a statement the "decision is a double victory, both for patients who rely on AndroGel and for competition more broadly." Although the FTC originally sought $1.35 billion, the $448 million disgorgement is the largest monetary award resulting from FTC antitrust litigation, the agency said. 

Simons added that the ruling "sends a clear signal that pharmaceutical companies can’t use baseless litigation to forestall competition from low-cost generics.” 

In addition to claims that AbbVie filed "baseless" patent lawsuits, the agency previously said the company and Teva entered an illegal "pay-for-delay" deal. The court dismissed the allegation in 2015.

The decision comes as AbbVie faces another set of claims on AndroGel. Thousands of plaintiffs have sued the company for alleged aggressive marketing and serious complications resulting from their AndroGel use.

So far, AbbVie has had mixed results in court in defense of the claims. In the first case to go to trial last July, jurors ordered the drugmaker to pay $150 million. The verdict didn't stand up to scrutiny, however, and a judge overturned the result. After a retrial, jurors ordered the company to pay $3 million. 

Since the original verdict last summer, the company has won a case and lost another. In October, jurors ordered the drugmaker to pay $140 million, and AbbVie pledged to appeal.