US lawmaker moves to block Allergan patent deal with tribe

A senior US lawmaker is attempting to use legislation to block Allergan’s controversial move to protect patents on an eye drug by selling them to a Native American tribe.

Senator Claire McCaskill said the deal exploited a “brazen loophole”, and has drafted a bill stating that tribal sovereign immunity cannot be used to block reviews of patents.

McCaskill’s response follows a bipartisan US House of Representatives committee decision earlier this week to investigate the deal.

Allergan sold patents of its blockbuster eye drug Restasis to New York’s Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in order to shield them from the inter-partes review process, where a board is asked to test the validity of a patent.

In a statement, McCaskill said that the deal should be illegal, adding that “Congress never imagined tribes would allow themselves to be used by pharmaceutical companies to avoid challenges to patents, and this bill will shut the practice down before others follow suit.”

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe said in response that it was “outraged” by McCaskill’s attempt to use legislation to undermine the deal, arguing that the law targets tribes yet exempts state universities and other sovereign governments engaged in the same process.

The tribe argues that it needs the money from the deal to ensure that its own healthcare needs are met as provisions made by the Federal government are insufficient.

Earlier this week, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican, and Democrat ranking member Elijah Cummings wrote to Allergan CEO Brent Saunders quizzing him about the “unconventional” deal with the Mohawk tribe.

Senators had asked the committee to investigate the deal late last month.

Allergan, which ironically was the first pharma company to announce a cap on price rises following political scrutiny last year, has yet to comment on the latest developments.

But Allergan has agreed to comply with the committee’s request for documents and other information and has noted that Restasis patents are being challenged in Federal courts.

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