Regeneron CEO Schleifer, a year after public Pfizer spat, slams Allergan for tribal deal

Allergan inked a controversial tribal licensing deal to protect Restasis patents in September.

In Congress, on social media and elsewhere, Allergan and its CEO Brent Saunders have taken plenty of heat about the company's controversial tribal patent transfer to protect intellectual property for blockbuster eye medication Restasis. But this week, the drugmaker found a new source of criticism. 

Outspoken Regeneron CEO Len Schleifer called the move "nuts" in a panel discussion at the Forbes Healthcare Summit, according to Bloomberg. He told Saunders it "makes your company look bad," according to the news service, adding that he doesn't believe it fits in with Allergan's social contract. 

Saunders disagreed, telling the audience he has "no issues sleeping at night knowing that we did something to champion intellectual property in this industry." Instead, Saunders and his company have argued, the intellectual property system is flawed because companies have to defend against multiple patent challenges in different venues.

It's not the first time Schleifer has sparred with a prominent pharma CEO in a public forum. Last year, in a discussion with Pfizer's Ian Read at the same event, he said pharma has "used price increases to cover up the gaps in innovation."

Schleifer said using acquisitions or price hikes to boost revenue instead of introducing innovative products is “not the business I want to be in." Read, for his part, countered that "the total cost of drugs as a percentage of healthcare has not changed in two decades."

Allergan announced its Restasis deal with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in September, agreeing to transfer patents and license them back for $13.75 million up front and up to $15 million per year. In return, the tribe requested to apply sovereign immunity to an inter partes review at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. 

The deal sparked immediate backlash from critics on social media and from patient advocates. Members of Congress even got involved, starting an investigation into the strategy. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced legislation to close the "brazen loophole" before it spreads. 

Importantly, the deal didn't sidestep a patent challenge in federal court in Texas, and a judge there has since struck down Restasis patents. In his decision, the judge cited "serious concerns about the legitimacy of the tactic that Allergan and the tribe have employed." 

Now, the entire process is coming under review. The Supreme Court is examining whether inter partes reviews are constitutional in a fracking case between Oil States Energy Services and Greene’s Energy Group. Experts who attended the arguments on Monday told FiercePharma they expect a split decision around March or April.