U.K. judge backs Lyrica generic, scolds Pfizer for 'groundless' threats to docs

Pfizer has not only lost a key patent fight over Lyrica in Britain. It's now under fire for threatening legal action against doctors and pharmacies to enforce that very patent.

Over the past several months, Pfizer ($PFE) has been trying to protect its blockbuster med from competition, despite the arrival of generics in the U.K. Specifically approved to treat epilepsy and anxiety, the copycat drugs might have been used to treat pain, just as the branded drug is approved to do. So Pfizer mounted a campaign to enforce a Lyrica patent--covering its use to treat pain--that doesn't expire till 2017.

Now, Judge Richard Arnold has determined that generics maker Actavis, an Allergan ($AGN) unit, hasn't stepped on Pfizer's Lyrica patents. Pfizer had contended that Actavis knew its version of the drug, sold under the brand name Lecaent, would also be used to treat pain, Bloomberg reports.

What's more, Arnold chided Pfizer for targeting doctors and pharmacists offering generic Lyrica to patients. Pfizer's threats of legal action were unjustified and groundless, the judge said. The company had sent letters to physicians, health service officials and pharmacists pointing out its 2017 Lyrica patent and promising to enforce it in court if necessary.

To Arnold's mind, some of those letters were "calculated to have a chilling effect on the willingness of pharmacies to stock and dispense generic pregabalin."

Pfizer maintains that it had no such plan. "Our intention was only ever to communicate the existence and importance of our second medical use patent for the use of Lyrica in pain," the company told Bloomberg in an emailed statement. "With the benefit of hindsight and having navigated particularly challenging and complex legal issues, we wish we had been able to explain this better and sooner."

Pfizer says it will appeal the ruling. A previous court order had backed the company's attempts to enforce the 2017 patent, requiring the National Health Service to officially recommend against using generic Lyrica for pain. The NHS did so, and also told doctors to switch any existing generic scripts for pain back to the Lyrica brand right away.

After doctors complained about the administrative workload, Pfizer offered to cover their costs. In a separate move last week, the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority said it was investigating the offer as a potential violation of the industry code covering the promotion of drugs to health providers, Pharmaceutical Journal reports.

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