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Most New Drug Patents Are for Old Remedies

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Thursday, 02 November 2017 09:01 AM

The U.S. patent system was designed to protect new innovations, but drugmakers are more often than not using it to protect old ones.

At least 74 percent of drugs associated with new patents were medicines already on the market, according to research by Robin Feldman, director of the Institute for Innovation Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. The percentage reached 80 percent in three of the years studied in the 2005-2015 period.

Feldman and co-author Connie Wang reviewed all instances when a manufacturer extended a drug’s protection during the decade. Drugmakers are allowed to seek additional patent protections on existing products for new indications, different dosing methods, or new manufacturing ways to produce the treatment, for instance.

Their paper, titled “May Your Drug Price Be Ever Green,” found that the practice of “evergreening” -- extending the life of a patent by seeking extra protections -- is widespread and contributing to the rise in drug prices.

“This study definitively shows that stifling competition is not limited to a few pharma bad apples,” the authors wrote. “Rather, it is a common and pervasive problem endemic to the pharmaceutical industry.”

Active Patent-Seekers

Makers of best-selling medicines are among the more active patent-seekers. Of the top 100 drugs, almost 80 percent had their patent extended at least once, and half of them more than once. 

The world’s top-selling drug, rheumatoid arthritis treatment Humira, is protected by more than 100 patents, which has made it difficult for rivals to enter the market. While the main patent expired last year, AbbVie Inc., its manufacturer, has secured new ones in recent years. Last week, the drugmaker raised its 2021 sales forecast for Humira to $21 billion, almost $3 billion more than it had previously expected.

Companies have gotten more aggressive in adding protections. In 2005, 37 drugs got three or more new patents, according to Feldman. By 2015, the number had risen to 76 drugs.

“The data suggest that the current state of affairs is harming innovation in tangible ways. Rather than creating new medicines -- sallying forth into new frontiers for the benefit of society -- drug companies are focusing their time and effort extending the patent life of old products,” Feldman wrote. “This, of course, is not the innovation one would hope for.”

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The U.S. patent system was designed to protect new innovations, but drugmakers are more often than not using it to protect old ones.At least 74 percent of drugs associated with new patents were medicines already on the market, according to research by Robin Feldman,...
drug, patents, old, remedies, evergreen
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2017-01-02
Thursday, 02 November 2017 09:01 AM
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