Jury Finds for Merck on Hep C Drug Patent

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) – In a showdown between pharmaceutical heavyweights, a federal jury found Tuesday that Merck’s patents for a lucrative hepatitis C drug developed by rival company Gilead Sciences are valid.
     Tuesday’s verdict could entitle Merck to collect a portion of the $1 billion Gilead generates in sales for the lifesaving hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir, which Gilead markets under the brand names Solvaldi and Harvoni. The jury will also consider awarding damages.
     “Merck believes the jury’s verdict accurately reflects the evidence in this case,” the company said in a statement emailed to Courthouse News Service.
     The jury validated Merck’s claim that Gilead developed sofosbuvir, a nucleotide that prevents the hepatitis C virus from replicating in the human liver, using patents Merck took out in the early 2000s.
     “Although we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict today, there are a number of remaining issues to be decided by the jury and the judge,” Gilead spokeswoman Michele Rest said in an emailed statement. “Therefore, it is premature to comment any further.”
     Sofosbuvir has proven enormously effective in treating hepatitis C, with a 97 percent cure rate. Sovaldi and Harvoni collectively generated about $19 billion in sales for Gilead in 2015, according to multiple published reports.
     Merck asserted its scientists made significant advancements in the search for a cure for hepatitis C, a virus that attacks liver cells that eventually causes scarring or cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.
     Specifically, Merck scientists found a certain class of compounds that proved effective in blocking the virus from replicating itself in liver cells, causing the virus to die. Merck claims Gilead used the discovery to further its own research, according to court documents.
     For its part, Gilead says the scientific breakthrough that led to the development of sofobivur was made by biomedical researchers at Pharmasset, a small company Gilead acquired for $11 billion in 2011 for the express purpose of bringing the medicine to market.
     Ultimately, the jury disagreed.
     “Strong patent protection is essential to innovation,” Merck said in its statement. “Given that it guarantees a firm a period of return on investment, patent protection provides the research-based pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries with an incentive to invest in research and development.”
     

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