AbbVie draws first blood in trade secrets war between Allergan's Botox and Evolus

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Botox, approved to treat migraine as well as wrinkles, is the subject of a trade dispute that could be resolved with a final ruling in November. (Getty)

AbbVie's Allergan and Evolus have been locked in a yearslong trade secrets fight involving the two drugmakers' South Korean partners and blockbuster Botox. Despite some early promise for Evolus, a U.S. trade judge has flipped the script on the California drugmaker's underdog Botox challenger.

And if that judge's ruling holds up, Evolus and South Korea-based Daewoong's Jeuveau, a rival to Botox, could be banned stateside for 10 years.

Monday, Judge David Shaw with the International Trade Commission (USITC) preliminarily ruled in favor of AbbVie's Allergan and its partner, South Korean drugmaker Medytox, that Jeuveau was developed using trade secrets stolen by a former Medytox employee, Bloomberg reported.

Sept. 15-17,2020

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Shaw's initial ruling is non-binding, and a full commission decision is scheduled for November.

Evolus blasted the ruling in a statement Monday, saying it planned to petition the judge's decision on grounds that the commission overstepped its authority to only adjudicate domestic intellectual property disputes.

"The trade secrets asserted by Allergan and its Korean partner Medytox have never been used in the United States," Evolus said. "Evolus will petition the full Commission to review this questionable legal maneuvering which would improperly increase the jurisdiction of the USITC beyond the Commission’s mandate."

Evolus said it will continue its Jeuveau launch stateside pending a final ruling.

A spokesperson for AbbVie could not be reached for comment by press time.

RELATED: Whoops! Allergan's bid to shield Botox manufacturing secrets from competitors backfires

Shaw's ruling in favor of Allergan comes as the latest twist in a back and forth battle between the AbbVie company and Evolus.

In January 2019, Allergan and Medytox accused a former Medytox employee of stealing trade secrets on the complex manufacturing process needed to turn botulinum toxin into a drug, as well as a sample of Medytox’s strain. That complaint followed a lawsuit Medytox filed in 2017 against Daewoong on the same claims.

Shaw initially rejected Allergan’s theft claims in a July 2019 ruling, siding with Daewoong’s argument that the public information on Botox’s manufacturing could shield the South Korean drugmaker from wrongdoing, according to Bloomberg.

RELATED: Allergan tries to blunt impact of Botox competitor with complaint of pilfered manufacturing secrets

The ITC investigation is only the latest in Allergan’s attempts to stave off Jeuveau.

In December 2018, Allergan and Medytox filed an ultimately failed citizen’s petition with the FDA, raising questions about the source of the botulinum strain used in the Evolus drug.

It’s also not the only time Allergan has played hardball with competitors to hamstring rival drugs. In 2017, Allergan handed off six patents for Restasis to the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe in a bid to shield the dry-eye treatment from generic competition. A U.S. judge rejected that patent defense, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually refused to hear Allergan's appeal.

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