Armed with a brand-new patent, Roche demands royalties on Lilly’s psoriasis drug Taltz

Roche's Genentech filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Eli Lilly, aiming for a piece of the psoriasis med Taltz, which earned $486 million in the U.S. last year. (Pixabay)

Here’s a patent gambit for you: Roche’s Genentech unit sued Eli Lilly for infringement Tuesday, claiming the Indianapolis drugmaker’s psoriasis drug Taltz steps on one of its patents.

Thing is, Genentech just won that patent this week.

Taltz has been on the market since 2016—long enough to build up to $486 million in U.S. sales last year, despite heavy competition in its field from Novartis’ first-to-market Cosentyx and other newcomers. But Genentech alleges that the drug, which works by inhibiting the immunology pathway IL-17, infringes its own brand-new patent that covers biological drugs that target that specific pathway.

Now that Genentech has that patent, referred to in the lawsuit as the ‘654 patent, it argues Lilly's "commercial manufacture, use, offer for sale, or sale of Taltz in the United States or importation of Taltz into the United States constitutes an act of infringement" of some patent claims.

An Eli Lilly representative said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit seeks damages and royalties in lieu of a permanent injunction.

It's not the first time drugmakers have fought patent disputes over already marketed drugs. Gilead and Merck have litigated for years over hep C patents as Gilead's Sovaldi and Harvoni raked in billions. Amgen and partners Sanofi and Regeneron have fought over intellectual property in the PCSK9 class of cholesterol drugs, as well.

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Genentech’s patent specifies ownership of “humanized monoclonal antibodies that bind to the IL-17A/F heterodimer.” In the new wave of psoriasis drugs, Taltz isn’t the only IL-17A med; Cosentyx works by inhibiting the IL-17A pathway, too. Valeant’s Siliq goes after multiple IL-17 targets, while UCB’s pipeline drug bimekizumab selectively inhibits IL-17 A and IL-17 F, the Belgian pharma says.

Taltz is among a group of new launches Eli Lilly is counting on for growth as its diabetes business continues to face competitive assault. In the first quarter, sales for the drug grew 52% over the same period last year to $146.5 million. But sales were down quarter-over-quarter in the U.S. due to specialty pharmacy buying patterns, the company reported.

Taltz won its original FDA approval in 2016 to treat moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. In 2017, the drug secured a nod in psoriatic arthritis. Eli Lilly also recently presented positive phase 3 data in ankylosing spondylitis.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct information about a patent dispute between Amgen and partners Sanofi and Regeneron, and to note that Eli Lilly declined to comment.