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Merck awarded $2.5 billion in dispute over Gilead drugs

Gilead will appeal the latest verdict centered on the active ingredient of its breakthrough hepatitis C therapies

by Rick Mullin
December 16, 2016

A jury in U.S. District Court in Delaware has ordered Gilead Sciences to pay Merck & Co. $2.54 billion in damages because its hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni infringe on a Merck patent.

The patent was originally awarded to Idenix Pharmaceuticals, which Merck acquired in 2014. Sovaldi, the first of the two Gilead drugs, began selling in 2013. The amount of the award is 10% of their sales through August 2016.

An active ingredient in both drugs is sofosbuvir, which Gilead obtained as part of its acquisition of the biotech firm Pharmasset in 2011. The dispute centers on whether Pharmasset derived sofosbuvir from an Idenix patent or whether it developed the compound itself.

“The jury’s verdict upholds patent protections that are essential to the development of new medical treatments,” Merck says.

Gilead says it will appeal the decision. “We remain steadfast in our opinion that Idenix’s U.S. patent is invalid, and since they made no contribution and assumed none of the risk in the discovery and development of sofosbuvir and its metabolites, do not believe they are entitled to any level of damages,” the company says.

The two drug companies sparred in a previous lawsuit in California, where a federal jury awarded Merck $200 million earlier this year. The award was overturned in June after allegations that a Merck attorney had lied under oath. Merck, which had sought $2 billion, is contesting the overturned verdict.

The Gilead drugs debuted to great fanfare, given their ability to cure many patients of the disease, but they also have been criticized for their high prices. Sovaldi costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment, while Harvoni costs $50,000 per course of treatment.

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