Native American tribe open to more patent deals with pharma

A Native American tribe says it expects more deals with pharma companies looking to protect patents, following a multi-million dollar deal that could hinder generic competition for an Allergan dry-eye drug.

Late last week, Allergan announced it had sold a group of US patents for its $1.5 billion-a-year ophthalmology blockbuster Restasis (cyclosporine) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.

In the bizarre deal, the tribe will file a motion to dismiss the procedure known as an inter partes review (IPR), where an appeal board decides whether patents can be contested.

Under the terms of the deal, the tribe, based in Akwesasne, New York state, will get a batch of patents that are set to expire in August 2024, plus $13.75 million up front and $15 million in annual royalties.

The thinking behind the deal is that the tribe’s legal status grants it immunity to IPRs, leaving Allergan free to charge top prices for Restasis until the patents expire, while the tribe uses royalties to sustain its community.

Companies such as Mylan and Teva seeking to make cheap generic copies could challenge the patents through the Federal court system, but this is a long and expensive process.

There is already speculation that firms such as Pfizer could take advantage of the loophole to protect patents on its Prevnar 13 – and a spokesperson for the tribe said it expects other pharma companies to get in touch with it or a firm acting on its behalf.

A spokesperson for the tribe told pharmaphorum in an email: “When other big technology and pharmaceutical companies learn about this patent protection development through the media they will contact either the Tribe or the Shore firm.”

The tribe’s spokesperson said it has been involved in the patent business since April, and has already drawn up two deals and will be “executing another soon.”

It already owns 40 patents from a computer technology company from a separate agreement, and five patents relating to Restasis.

The spokesperson added: “Allergan wants its patents to be enforced against infringers, (makers of generic eye drops) but in federal court, not in the IPR proceedings.”

The tribe runs a large casino to fund its community but said it wants to find other revenues to fund housing, employment, education, healthcare, culture, and language preservation.

But the announcement caused a backlash on Twitter, particularly as Allergan’s CEO, Brent Saunders, has taken a strong stance against overpriced drugs.

Saunders was the first big pharma CEO to promise to keep price rises under 10% each year as the industry came under scrutiny during the presidential election.

Facing criticism over the move on twitter and press articles, Saunders said the deal was in line with the drug company’s “social contract”.

But others were not impressed, citing the deal as yet another example of pharma greed.

And Allergan CEO Brent Saunders defended the move, saying it was in line with Allergan’s ‘Social Contract’.

When asked to respond to the criticism, the tribe’s spokesperson said: “The tribe is encouraged by Allergan’s Social Contract to make their products and treatments affordable and accessible for their patients.”

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