Plot thickens in Plavix patent battle

A bottle of Plavix

KAI RYSSDAL: It's going to be a long weekend for drugmaker Bristol Myers Squibb. The company makes Plavix. It's a blood thinner. And it's the world's number two top-selling drug brings in about $4 billion a year in sales. There's a generic drug company trying to get a piece of the action. A federal judge heard Bristol's arguments today trying to stop that from happening.

From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has more.


HELEN PALMER: Here's what happened. Canadian company Apotex challenged the Plavix patent that expires in 2011, saying it was invalid. So Bristol Myers struck a deal with Apotex to let it sell generic Plavix several months before the patent expired. But state's attorneys general nixed that deal late last month. So Apotex launched generic Plavix 10 days ago. With me so far?
TOM D'AMORE: The management of Apotex has out-maneuvered Bristol Myers, both in terms of the negotiations and now in terms of their operations.

Morningstar analyst Tom d'Amore says Apotex managed to ship out enough generic product to last pharmacists for months. Today's injunction seeks to stop Apotex shipping its generic, and to recall any product already in pharmacies. But it may be too late, says Nielsen Hobbs of the pharmaceutical letter The Pink Sheet.

NIELSEN HOBBS: With so much generic Plavix on the market it'll be very easy for insurance companies to encourage patients to switch to the generic.

Today's injunction claimed the launch of the generic would cause Bristol Myers "irreparable harm." Hobbs says that may be no exaggeration.

HOBBS: The buzzards may be circling in terms of other companies looking to Bristol as a potential acquisition target.

But Morningstar's Tom d'Amore reckons Bristol Myers is in no danger of a takeover yet because the Justice Department is investigating its deal with Apotex.

D'AMORE: An acquirer would be unlikley to make an offer until the criminal investigation is resolved.

He sees a management shake-up as more likley near-term, to try to recover some shareholder value. The stock's down 20 percent.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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