Will Teva rethink at-risk launches after Protonix loss?

A new court ruling shows how at-risk generic launches can live up to their name. A jury decided Friday that Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (Nasdaq: TEVA) did, in fact, step on Wyeth's patent for the acid-reflux drug Protonix when it started selling a copycat version back in 2007. And that overstepping caused Wyeth--now part of Pfizer (NYSE: PFE)--to lose as much as $1.5 billion in profits.

Although analysts don't expect Teva to end up paying the triple damages allowed for under the law, they do think the Israeli generics maker will have to pay--and the amount won't be insignificant. Rather than some $4.5 billion, according to some estimates, Teva could end up paying more than $1 billion.

Now, the lawsuit isn't 100 percent decided; as Reuters points out, Teva plans an appeal, and there are some legal issues remaining, including a deliberation over just how much Wyeth lost to the premature generic. But industry observers figure that Pfizer will prevail, whether in the courtroom or with a settlement from Teva.

The big winner in this case may not be Pfizer, however; it could be Big Pharma in general. Some Teva-watchers are speculating that this loss, on top of a recent patent-suit loss to Novartis (NYSE: NVS) over Famvir, might inspire the company to change its strategy. "I don't think Teva will now launch at-risk drugs,"  IBI Investment House analyst Natali Gotlieb tells Reuters.

- see the Teva press release
- get the analysis from Haaretz
- read the Globes story
- check out the coverage from Reuters