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Jury Gives Merck $200M|in Hepatitis C Drug Spat

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - A jury found Gilead Sciences should pay its pharmaceutical rival Merck $200 million for infringing on patents it developed in the effort to create a cure for hepatitis C.

Immediately after the jury returned its findings, Gilead said it would appeal.

"We continue to believe the Merck patents are invalid," a Gilead spokesman said in an emailed statement. "In the event the judge maintains the jury's verdict, we will appeal."

The same jury found earlier this week that Merck's patents for a drug called sofosbuvir are valid.

Merck meanwhile celebrated the ruling, saying it provided vindication for their research and development efforts over a period of years.

""We are pleased that the jury recognized that patent protections are essential to the development of new medical treatment," Merck said through a company spokesman. "The compounds and methods at issue in this case facilitated significant advances in the treatment of patients with HCV infection, and achieving these advancements required many years of research and significant investment by Merck and its partners."

The dispute stems from Gilead's development of sofosbuvir, which Gilead markets under the brand names Solvaldi and Harvoni. The medication has proven enormously effective at curing hepaitits C, an often fatal virus that attacks cells in the liver causing cancer, cirrohsis or liver failure.

The drug is a nucleotide, or chemical compound, which essentially prevents the virus from replicating itself in the cell division process in the liver. Solvaldi and Harvoni have generated $19 billion in sales for Gilead.

Last year, Merck demanded royalties from Gilead, saying their scientists made breakthroughs in the development of sofosbuvir.

Specifically, Merck scientists found a certain class of compounds that proved effective in blocking the hepatitis C. It was Merck that found the construction of the compound or nucleotide, upon which Gilead based its on research, according to court documents.

Gilead maintains the scientific breakthrough that led to the development of sofosbuvir 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.

"Since Merck made no contribution and assumed none of the risk in the discovery and development of sofosbuvir, we do not believe Merck is entitled to any amount of damages," Gilead said Thursday.

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