Wyeth decided to beat the copycats to the punch. The drug maker will launch its own generic version of the blockbuster heartburn med Protonix, more than two years ahead of its patent expiration.
You'll recall that Wyeth had been negotiating with generics giant Teva Pharmaceutical, hoping to settle a dispute over Protonix's patent. Late last year, a Canadian judge refused to stop Teva's launch of a copycat drug, even though the two companies' litigation was ongoing. But Teva agreed to a truce; it would stop shipping the generic to sit down with Wyeth for settlement talks.
Apparently, the two companies couldn't come to terms, and Wyeth came out swinging. "We believe the Protonix compound patent is strong and we will vigorously pursue out litigation against Teva and other infringing generics," President and CEO Bernard Poussot said in a statement.
Teva, on the other hand, says Wyeth nullified the truce by launching its own generic. The company's statement doesn't specify whether it would continue to ship the copycat version. Given the fact that Sun Pharma--which shares 180-day marketing exclusivity for the generic with Teva--is now launching its Pantoprazole product, it's hard to imagine Teva holding back. But, of course, any generics maker that sells a copycat form of the drug risks paying triple damages to Wyeth if its patent is upheld.
Wyeth's move is emblematic of the challenges drug makers face as their top-selling products attract generic competition. Copycat drug makers like Teva and Sun are increasingly aggressive in disputing patents; they start early and keep pushing. And Wyeth isn't the only company to launch its own authorized generic to capture at least some of the copycat revenues for itself. Two weeks ago, Merck announced that it would partner with a generics maker on an authorized version of Fosamax, whose patent expires in February. With billions in revenue at stake--Protonix sold $1.43 billion worth in the first nine months of 2007--who can blame them? But even with an authorized generic going out the door, Wyeth sales will take a big hit. Analysts expect flat revenues for all of 2008, and the company is looking to cut jobs to save some bucks over the next three years.
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