How Pfizer could patent bondage gear

On 2nd March 2015 Warner-Lambert LLC (a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer) won a ruling against NHS England and various other drug companies regarding their patent for Pregabalin (trade name Lyrica).

The judge rule that NHS England should advise clinical commissioning groups and clinicians, including GPs, that, when prescribing Pregabalin for pain, the prescription should be written as ‘Lyrica’.

The issue is that Pregabalin was originally licensed for epilepsy, but has subsequently been found to be useful in chronic pain, and has a separate patent on this use. The original patent expired in July 2014 but Pfizer managed to secure a patent extension on Lyrica, when prescribed to treat pain, until July 2017. They justify this by saying they did more work and studies licensing this indication, and have a patient advice leaflet related to this license in the packet.

The usual patent lengths of up to 20 years (extended in some circumstances) are meant to protect the huge capital cost of developing, testing and licensing a new medication. Some argue that this helps promote drug development, although there may be different views on optimum patent durations. As this development cost is a huge part of the cost, the price can fall rapidly once patent protection expires.

Branded Lyrica Pregabalin in the UK costs over £700/year for a basic 75mg twice daily dose. Gabapentin, a drug with some similar uses, costs over £400/year for a branded 300mg three times daily dose yet only costs £40/year in the generic unbranded version. Hence if was expected that generic manufacturers would have started producing Pregabalin as the patent expired in 2014, thus driving down the cost dramatically.

Already pharmacists, afraid of Pfizer’s lawyers, are ‘reporting’ GPs to NHS England for not prescribing the branded medication, as the pharmacists might not get the full branded fee reimbursed without ‘Lyrica’ being stated.

Pfizer should congratulate itself on this talented piece of regulatory capture, first by extending patent laws for a drug already invented, then by forcing doctors to override their usual right to prescribe generically and change their prescribing habits for the sole purpose of protecting Pfizer’s patent. This is no different from a structural engineer specifying a particular strength of RSJ steel joist, and being instructed to specify the manufacturing brand due to patent issues.

Presumably Pfizer’s share price will reflect this success, thus diverting marginal capital into drug companies spending lawyers to persuade judges rather than on research on life saving medications.

Of course there is no reason Pfizer cannot diversify. I understand that Fifty Shades of Grey has led to a boom in certain DIY items for use in the bedroom. Perhaps Pfizer could add a safety manual, run a trial, and patent black gaffer tape, chains and padlocks to be sold as Pfizer Brand Only when used for bondage.

 

4 Comments

  1. IP – intellectual property, copyrights and patents. Where libertarians scratch each other’s eyes out. I am too scared to comment further on this matter….

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  2. IP is a human right as per article 27 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    The persistent inability of libertarians to understand this simple point, or even refer to this point, in any libertarian discussion, is probably why their position on IP is so confused.

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  3. IP is a human right as per article 27 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    The persistent inability of libertarians to understand this simple point, or even refer to this point, in any libertarian discussion, is probably why their position on IP is so confused.

    This is a very clever joke, readers.

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