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Opinion
Max Nisen

Merck's Grip on a Hot Cancer-Drug Market May Tighten

Its IO combo with Alimta could get a boost if Lilly loses patent protection.
RAHWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 29: Unidentified person walks by the Merck sign at the entrance of the Merck Plant in Rahway. US pharmaceutical giant Merck announced plans to cut some 7,000 jobs, or 11 percent of its global workforce, by the end of 2008.

RAHWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 29: Unidentified person walks by the Merck sign at the entrance of the Merck Plant in Rahway. US pharmaceutical giant Merck announced plans to cut some 7,000 jobs, or 11 percent of its global workforce, by the end of 2008.

Photographer: Marko Georgiev

While you were hopefully having a lovely summer weekend, Eli Lilly & Co. investors were sweating over the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB), which may invalidate a patent on the company's lung-cancer drug Alimta as soon as Monday. 

They have reason to be anxious. Alimta was Lilly's third-largest medicine last year, accounting for nearly $2.3 billion in sales. A patent loss could hasten generic competition, which would be bad news when coupled with the company's other patent losses, setbacks in its drug pipeline, and competition in the diabetes market. The patent at issue expires in 2022, so losing it now could mean a lot of lost revenue for Lilly. The company can appeal the decision, but there's a chance Alimta generics could hit the market this year.