Abbott sues J&J over new Humira rival

Get ready for a battle in the rheumatoid arthritis segment. Johnson & Johnson's Centocor unit is prepping for a launch of its new Humira competitor Simponi, and Abbott Laboratories is not amused. So unamused, in fact, that Abbott slapped J&J with allegations of patent infringement.

All in a day's work for the folks who defend Big Pharma intellectual property, right? Yes and no. Abbott's suit follows up a set of reverse accusations: Last year, Centocor and NYU sued Abbott, saying that they were entitled to patent royalties on Humira. And that case is still pending.

The new suit concerns a 2007 patent Abbott owns; the complaint asks for money and a court order preventing Centocor from continuing to use its IP. Centocor plans to "vigorously contest" the complaint, a spokesman told Bloomberg via email. "We believe we have rights to all of the intellectual property we need to market Simponi," the spokesman said. J&J just got FDA approval for the drug a month ago.

We can't pretend to know whose claims are most valid. What we do know is that billions are at stake. Humira posted 2008 sales of $4.5 billion. Analysts estimate that Simponi will be a $1 billion-plus blockbuster. And competition among TNF-alpha inhibitors--a class that includes Amgen's Enbrel and J&J's Remicade, in addition to Humira and Simponi--is already fierce.

- read the Bloomberg story