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Pfizer Fights Fire with Fire

Firm launches its own generic version of gabapentin epilepsy capsules

by William Storck
October 18, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 42

The generic drug company Alpharma has launched a version of Pfizer's popular anticonvulsive Neurontin (gabapentin). In retaliation, Pfizer has launched its own generic version of the drug through its Greenstone generic drug subsidiary.

The move by Alpharma came on Oct. 8 after Judge John C. Lifland of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey postponed a decision on a suit filed by Pfizer to stop Alpharma from selling the product. Lifland also denied Pfizer's request for a temporary restraining order. In January 2003, FDA had awarded Alpharma "first-to-file" status for a generic capsule version of the drug, giving it 180-day exclusivity to market the product when approved.

Pfizer, whose sales of Neurontin totaled $1.48 billion in the first half of 2004, is not happy. The company says, "Should Alpharma choose to launch prior to a decision by Judge Lifland, it does so at significant risk. If Alpharma launches, and the court ultimately determines that Alpharma's product infringes Pfizer's patent, Pfizer will aggressively pursue all available remedies and damages."

Alpharma is launching the drug in concert with Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, with which it has a risk-sharing arrangement relating to any patent litigation. Teva had moved against Pfizer and Greenstone "to obtain immediate injunctive relief against the intrusion of Greenstone into the 180-day marketing exclusivity for gabapentin capsules," but on Oct. 13 Lifland denied the motion.

The pharmaceutical business intelligence firm Cutting Edge Information says Pfizer's strategy could pay off in the long run. "Previously, most brand-name drug companies would partner with a generic manufacturer to beat other generic companies to market, and they would receive royalties on all the generic sales," says Jon Hess, senior analyst at the firm. "Pfizer is doing it alone with Neurontin."


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