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Taking a stand

Pfizer has promised to appeal negative rulings made against its Lipitor patent as Ranbaxy seeks to win the right to produce a generic version of the cholesterol-lowering drug

A UK court decision on two challenges to key patents protecting Pfizer's number one-selling drug Lipitor is expected today.

Indian generics manufacturer Ranbaxy Laboratories is seeking to invalidate the UK patents on the $11bn-a-year cholesterol-lowering treatment and analysts are split on whether Pfizer will be successful in defending them.

ìThe obvious case to watch out for is if Pfizer loses the patent,î said Steven Hill at First Investors Management Co. ìWhile [losing the case] would hurt the European operations, we're more worried about the implications it would have for the US ruling.î

The UK market accounts for nearly 7 per cent of global Lipitor sales. While defeat for Pfizer would not be a disaster, it could damage sentiment ahead of a similar ruling on the equivalent US patents. The US case is crucial as the market accounts for about 60 per cent of Lipitor sales.

Hill added that he expected Pfizer to prevail in the UK case: ìEven if they lose, it doesn't mean they will lose in the States.î

The UK case involves the patent for the basic chemical compound of Lipitor and the patent for the method of modifying it into the actual drug. Pfizer believes both patents should stand until 2010 and 2011.

Ranbaxy needs to win against both patents to prevail, and Pfizer has promised to appeal any negative judgments. Analysts have predicted Ranbaxy could rake in up to $800m from a cheap generic version of Lipitor, which would enjoy six months exclusivity on the US market before any other versions would be allowed in.

Analysts expect a decision in the UK patent case to arrive between January and April of next year.

30th September 2008

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