AZ mulls next steps on Nexium patent

What's AstraZeneca to do about its Nexium patents? Even the company doesn't know yet, Dow Jones reports. In the wake of last Friday's decision  from the European Patent Office, which invalidated and overturned a key patent on the stomach drug, AstraZeneca is reviewing its options.

"We will decide whether to file an appeal once we have reviewed the written reasons for the decision," an AstraZeneca spokeswoman told the news service. "AstraZeneca is disappointed by the decision... but has confidence in its intellectual property portfolio protecting Nexium. This portfolio includes many patents with expiration dates ranging from 2014 through to 2019."

The company has enforced the patent in question in several European countries, the spokeswoman told Dow Jones, and so the company will continue to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to use it. Meanwhile, the patent has already expired in some countries, and generic rivals have cropped up, but only on a limited basis.

Nexium is one of AstraZeneca's biggest sellers, with 2010 revenues of more than $5 billion. But as Dow Jones notes, the company has been expecting generic competition to come in Europe earlier than in the U.S., where copycats aren't expected till 2014. Even so, widespread competition wasn't expected quite this soon. And the EPO ruling does appear to be a major change; as Matrix analyst Navid Malik said in an investor note, the ruling "in our view leaves the door wide open for a generic to enter the market, subject to appeal by [AstraZeneca]."

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