The Hepatitis C virus is expensive to treat. No wonder then that pharmaceutical companies are clamoring for opportunities to corner the market.
Several large drugmakers are launching patent lawsuits to keep rival drugmakers and their products from the market.
Gilead Sciences, the maker of Sovaldi, is currently litigating against companies such as Merck, AbbVie and Roche. Gilead Sciences is a leading producer of Hepatitis C drugs.
While the goal in most patent lawsuits is to prevent cheaper generic versions of the expensive Sovaldi Hepatitis C drug from flooding the market, the current conflict is much more complicated.
In this case, the participants in the lawsuit are all major drug companies. For instance, in one of the more unusual aspects of the case, AbbVie, a rival drugmaker of Gilead Sciences, has patented a process to combine two individual drugs owned and patented by Gilead Sciences.
The law permits patents to be filed that describe a method of use even if the ingredients listed in the patent do not belong to the company. AbbVie has argued that they seeking approval of a combination drug under review by the FDA and that is why they patented such a process.
In another aspect of the case, another rival drug company, Merck, is arguing that it has patented nucleosides, micro components of DNA, in Europe. This patent, Merck argues, should entitle the company to either an injunction or a portion of the profits.
The conflict between the pharmaceutical companies has fallen to new lows. The companies are exchanging barbs about one another's integrity and business practices. There is a lot of money at stake. The leading Hepatitis C drug on the market produced by Gilead Sciences is expected to top 11 billion dollars this year alone.
Even if the courts are able to untangle ownership of the underlying drugs, consumers are bound to lose. None of the Hepatitis C drugs under consideration in the lawsuit are being produced as generics. They are all currently under the brand name (read more expensive) versions.