Drugmaker loses bid to derail landmark trial

AstraZeneca and Ranbaxy Laboratories failed to derail a landmark trial in the US accusing the companies of colluding to delay the release of a cheaper version of the top-selling heartburn pill Nexium.

US District Judge William Young, in Boston, denied a bid by the UK drugmaker and by the Indian generics manufacturer to end the jury trial early.

The companies had argued that the plaintiffs failed to provide enough evidence that AstraZeneca illegally paid Ranbaxy to keep the lower- cost alternative off the market.

The trial over AstraZeneca’s “pay-for-delay” deals to block early competition to Nexium is the first of its kind since the US Supreme Court last year opened the door, finding companies can be sued over such deals.

The Federal Trade Commission — whose litigation led to the high court ruling — argues that such “pay-for-delay” accords cost drug purchasers as much as $3.5bn (€2.8bn) per year.

“I’m looking forward to the rest of the trial,” Thomas Sobol, a lawyer for plaintiffs including drug wholesalers and third-party purchasers, said outside court.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, another defendant, agreed in principle to settle the lawsuit.

The company’s lawyers were allowed by the judge to leave the trial, but no details of the deal were provided in court.

The decision on AstraZeneca’s and Ranbaxy’s request for a so-called directed verdict was issued before this session of the trial — which started October 20 —was scheduled to begin.

AstraZeneca — which rejected a $117bn takeover bid from Pfizer in May — is relying on revenue from Nexium and another best-selling drug, Crestor, as it waits for a range of new blockbuster drugs to emerge from its pipeline.

The company assumed Nexium would have competition from a generic version in the US on October 1, however, Ranbaxy — which has the exclusive right to sell a copy for six months — has not won final regulatory approval to do so.



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