AbbVie Sues Amgen to Fend Off Copy of Blockbuster Humira

  • Drugmaker claims Amgen’s proposed copy infringes 10 patents
  • AbbVie says it has 51 other patents for arthritis medicine

Biotechnology drugmaker AbbVie Inc. filed a lawsuit seeking to block Amgen Inc. from selling a copy of the arthritis medicine Humira, its top seller.

Amgen’s proposed copy would infringe at least 10 patents, AbbVie said as it reserved the right to assert as many as 51 other patents. It’s seeking a court order to prevent Amgen from selling a copy, known as a biosimilar, of the biotech drug.

AbbVie is trying to protect a rheumatoid arthritis injection whose sales surged 17 percent in the second quarter to $4.15 billion. The drug accounted for 61 percent of AbbVie’s 2015 revenue. The litigation is only part of the hurdle for Amgen. The Thousand Oaks, California-based biotech company has to navigate a byzantine series of steps known as the “patent dance” that’s still being worked out by U.S. courts and regulators.

Humira, a biologic AbbVie invented in 1996, includes a complex protein manufactured in living cells rather than by chemical synthesis. Its active ingredient is the antibody adalimumab. Humira was approved for the treatment of 10 diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

‘Ignore’ Patents

“Amgen seeks to copy AbbVie’s work and ignore AbbVie’s patents,” AbbVie said in the complaint, filed Thursday in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware.

Amgen said it wouldn’t comment on the litigation, but said its own version, known as ABP 501, is working its way through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In July, an FDA panel voted that it should be approved to treat seven chronic inflammatory conditions.

“The FDA Advisory Committee’s favorable vote last month was an exciting step toward recognizing ABP 501 as an important treatment option for patients with inflammatory diseases,” said Kelley Davenport, a company spokeswoman. “We look forward to continuing to work with the FDA as they complete their review” of the company’s application.

‘Copycat Actions’

AbbVie describes Amgen as looking to circumvent rules it wants others to follow assiduously if they want to make copies of Amgen’s drugs.

“In seeking to defend its copycat actions here, Amgen is speaking out of both sides of its mouth,” AbbVie said in the complaint. “When biosimilars attempt to knock off its biologic products, Amgen tells a different story. Amgen has repeatedly recognized how difficult it is to innovate methods of using, formulating, and manufacturing biologics.”

Some of AbbVie’s patents on Humira have been the subject of attacks filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. While Amgen hasn’t had much luck, petitions filed by Coherus Biosciences Inc. and Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH are being considered by the agency.

The lawsuit could keep biosimilars off the market if AbbVie succeeds in getting a court order against Amgen, said Aude Gerspacher, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. She said the case could last two to three years not counting any appeals, which would extend the legal fight to 2020.

The case is AbbVie Inc. v. Amgen Inc., 16-666, U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware (Wilmington).

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