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Joe Nocera

Humira and Botox, a Match Made in Patent Heaven

AbbVie needs to prepare for losing its monopoly on the world’s most lucrative drug. Enter Allergan, with an iron grip on a treatment that’s a household name.

A shot in the arm for AbbVie.

A shot in the arm for AbbVie.

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

So it turns out that even AbbVie Inc. couldn’t game the patent system forever. To listen to the company’s conference call Tuesday morning is to realize that that is the core reason for its $63 billion merger with Allergan Plc. Its lawyers ran out of loopholes to exploit.

AbbVie owns the most lucrative drug in the world: Humira, which is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and related diseases. Last year, it generated almost $20 billion in revenue — an astonishing $10 billion more than the runner-up, the blood-clot medication, Eliquis, co-owned by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc. According to a slide AbbVie distributed in the aftermath of the deal announcement, Humira accounts for 60 percent of the company’s sales. All told, the company has reaped $160 billion from its most important drug since it first came on the market.