Prevnar 13 among blockbusters industry watchers peg as tribal licensing candidates

Pfizer's Prevnar 13 is among the products industry watchers say could gain important IP protection through a tribal licensing deal.

Even as many on social media blasted Allergan’s licensing deal with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, some industry-watchers think the tactic is bound to spread. In the wake of the potentially game-changing patent transfer, Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 is one medical product that’s been pegged as a possible cadidate for the patent protection strategy.

Motley Fool contributor Keith Speights believes the agreement could be a “huge gift” for Pfizer as it faces an IP challenge on megablockbuster pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar 13. In a note covering the deal, Evercore ISI analyst Umer Raffat mentioned Prevnar, Eli Lilly's Alimta and Amgen's Enbrel as important cases to track in regards to the strategy. Elsewhere, analysts have said AbbVie might explore the option with Humira.

On Friday, Allergan announced its agreement to transfer Restasis patents to the tribe and license them back in order to shield the intellectual property from an inter partes review at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Since the tribe is a sovereign nation, it can claim immunity from the reviews.

Critics called it abuse, while others labeled the deal “innovative.” Allergan CEO Brent Saunders said the company did the transfer to protect against a “double jeopardy” of patent reviews in federal courts and at the U.S. PTO. Some said the deal could spark pharma’s next public controversy.

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Evercore ISI analyst Josh Schimmer wrote in a note to clients that the strategy is “absolutely brilliant,” adding that his team can picture “every biopharma company scrambling to contact the nearest Tribe for a similar arrangement.”

“But as we all know, loopholes are bound to close sooner or later,” Schimmer continued.

A Pfizer spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the company would explore such a deal. A spokesperson for Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe told FiercePharma that the tribe is "investigating several opportunities in multiple different industries to further its patent investment strategy." Saint Regis has turned away some partners, he said, and is exploring the opportunities as a "matter of economic development and diversity."

"The Tribe has chosen to limit its participation in the patent system to helping true innovators protect their intellectual property from arbitrary, serial attacks after the innovators’ products covered by duly issued and maintained patents have been developed and brought to market," he said. 

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Last year, Merck requested that the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeals Board take a look at several Prevnar 13 patents. The agency decided in June that since there’s a “reasonable likelihood” Merck would prevail in some of its patent arguments, it would institute an inter partes review.

Prevnar 13 was Pfizer’s top product last year and the world’s bestselling vaccine, bringing in $5.7 billion in revenues, but the vaccine has been on a slow sales decline due to its early success.