U.K. trust sues for Enbrel royalties

Can a British trust patent a treatment approach? The Mathilda and Terence Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology Trust thinks so. It has sued Amgen and Wyeth, seeking royalty payments for their arthritis drug Enbrel, Reuters reports. According to its court complaint, the trust holds a 2001 patent that relates to treating arthritis with a combination of methotrexate and TNF alpha inhibitors.

Enbrel is a TNF alpha drug. It is approved by FDA for use in combination with methotrexate, among other indications. But Amgen and Wyeth--which co-marketed the drug until Pfizer absorbed the latter October 15--have refused to pay royalties.

Other makers of TNF alpha drugs do shell out royalties to the trust: Johnson & Johnson, which sells Remicade, and Abbott Laboratories, which markets Humira. These two have paid the trust tens of millions, the lawsuit claims.

We can't pretend to be patent lawyers. Nor can we claim to have studied the trust's patent. But according to the trust's 2005 annual report, its payments from Abbott and the J&J drugs unit Centocor fall under license agreements negotiated with the two companies. And the trust admits that "the emergence of competitive products... could seriously diminish future receipts." Wouldn't Enbrel qualify as a competing product? We'll have to wait and see what the legal minds come up with.

- read the Reuters news
- see the trust's 2005 annual report

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