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Rival Sues Genentech Over Patent

MedImmune alleges the rights to a method of making antibodies were gained in an illegal deal.

May 03, 2003|Denise Gellene | Times Staff Writer

A Maryland biotechnology company is suing Genentech Inc. and City of Hope National Medical Center to invalidate their highly valued patent on antibodies used to treat or diagnose diseases.

The patent covers a fundamental method of making therapeutic antibodies that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to biotech giant Genentech and its research partner City of Hope, a Duarte cancer hospital.

Genentech, based in South San Francisco, disclosed the suit by rival MedImmune Inc. in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday. The lawsuit was filed April 14 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

MedImmune alleges that Genentech obtained the patent because of illegal collusion with Celltech Ltd., a British biotechnology firm. MedImmune claims that Genentech cut a secret deal with Celltech that created a 29-year patent monopoly on a basic technology required to produce synthetic antibodies.

The lawsuit is the latest twist in the legal history of a 20-year-old joint discovery by Genentech and City of Hope. This latest suit could take years to litigate, but the stakes are high, as there are at least a dozen antibody drugs on the market and nearly 100 others under development. The holders of the patent would stand to get a steady stream of drug royalties.

MedImmune also named Celltech as a defendant in the suit.

MedImmune produces an antibody drug, Synagis, which is used to treat a severe respiratory ailment in children and had sales of $668 million last year. The company said it is paying undisclosed royalties on Synagis sales to Genentech under protest.

Genentech on Friday denied the allegations and said the patent had been "properly and correctly issued." City of Hope did not comment. Celltech could not be reached.

Genentech received a patent from the Trademark and Patent Office in 2001, after ending a decade of legal action against Celltech over rights to the discovery. Genentech partner City of Hope was added to the patent later.

In the early 1980s, scientists at Genentech and Celltech were racing to invent synthetic antibodies, copies of proteins that naturally exist in the body to fight disease. The patent office issued each company a patent on the same day in 1989, but nine years later it upheld Celltech's patent.

Genentech then sued Celltech, producing in court a draft of a patent application dated 30 days before Celltech claimed it made the antibody discovery in 1983. The companies settled the suit in a way that protected Celltech's royalties and gave Genentech the ability to block competitors from the market, MedImmune said.

As part of the settlement, Genentech filed for and received a patent that superseded Celltech's and expires in 2018.

Genentech shares fell 16 cents to $38.59 on the New York Stock Exchange and MedImmune rose 66 cents to $36.11 on Nasdaq.

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