Lawsuit: Drug Maker Illegally Kept Cheap Version Of Drug Off Market

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. acted illegally to maintain its monopoly on the cancer fighting drug Taxol and keep cheaper generic versions off the market, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by 29 states.

The lawsuit alleges that Bristol-Myers manipulated the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by fraudulently obtaining patents that had no legal validity for Taxol, one of the most widely used treatments for breast and ovarian cancer.

Ohio was the lead plaintiff on the lawsuit that said the company's actions delayed generic versions of Taxol from entering the market by at least 30 months. That forced hospitals, cancer patients and states to pay almost 30 percent more for Taxol treatments, the lawsuit said.

Taxol treatments generally cost $6,000 to $10,000 per patient.

The states are seeking unspecified damages.

"These marketplace practices have had a dramatic impact on the ability of people and health care systems to obtain affordable, effective drugs," said Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery.

Taxol was discovered by the taxpayer-funded National Cancer Institute, which licensed the drug to Bristol-Myers. First approved in 1992 as second-line therapy for advanced ovarian or breast cancer, Taxol today is used against AIDS-related Kaposi's sarcoma and lung cancer as well.

Robert Laverty, a Bristol-Myers spokesman, said the states were merely joining ongoing litigation brought by generic drug makers.

"The actual events at issue are several years old and have been the subject of litigation for some time," Laverty said. "We will continue to deal with the issues raised by this new suit, as we have been doing with other litigation related to these matters."

The lawsuit said the company acknowledged in 1993 that the drug's active ingredient, a naturally occurring substance called paclitaxel, could not be patented.

However, Bristol-Myers then filed fraudulent patent applications with the Patent and Trademark Office and listed those invalid patents with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the lawsuit said.

The company withheld documents about Taxol from the patent process and misrepresented information about the drug, the lawsuit said.

Families USA, a nonprofit group that lobbies for affordable health care, called the lawsuit an important step in fighting anticompetitive practices.

"It is shameful that the drug industry, which is by far the most profitable industry in the country, continues to manipulate drug prices to keep them high at the expense of consumers and payers," Ron Pollack, Families USA executive director, said in a statement.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The other states joining the action: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)