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European Pharmaceutical Contractor

Extending a Patent Portfolio

The pharmaceutical sector is struggling to maintain stock price stability in light of a gap in the drug development pipelines. This article examines some of the strategies available to pharmaceutical companies in order to extend the life of a patent.

The pharmaceutical industry has a very mature appreciation of the strong link between patent protection and the bottom line. No serious player can afford to risk undermining its heavy investment in research and development by allowing major inventions and developments to be copied by competitors. The share prices for pharmaceutical companies have a very close correlation to the life cycle of their drugs, be it in the research and development phase, the launch of products to market or when the patent on a drug approaches the end of its protection, at which point competitors can market their own versions of the drug. As the patent nears the end of its life, analysts will adjust the value of the stock accordingly. Of course, the first thing analysts are interested in is whether the pharmaceutical company can demonstrate stability in sales through a healthy development pipeline.

However, with many patents on major drugs set to expire over the next decade, some of the larger players in the sector are facing increasing scrutiny and pressure to demonstrate shareholder value. One famous case of the massive impact that patent protection can have on a share price is that of Eli Lilly and Prozac®. As the developer of a high profile drug with a large sales volume, Eli Lilly was much lauded in the financial markets. Sales of Prozac reached $2.6 billion per year, and the stock was riding high. This success abruptly ended in August 2000 when, with three years to run on the Prozac patents, a US court effectively held the patents invalid, allowing competitors to bring generic versions to market a lot earlier than expected.


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By Graham Ruffles, Chartered Patent Attorney and European Patent Attorney at Marks & Clerk

Graham Ruffles is a Chartered Patent Attorney and European Patent Attorney and has been a partner at Marks & Clerk for over 20 years. He graduated in Natural Sciences and subsequently obtained degrees in Organic Chemistry and Biology. He is a European Chemist, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a Chartered Chemist, as well as being a European Biologist, a Member of the Institute of Biology and a Chartered Biologist. During his time at Marks & Clerk, he has gained significant experience of chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology patents and related subjects, including medical equipment, polymers and food technology.

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