AIDS group asks court to stop AZT patent defense

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 24 2002 1:00 AM ET

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which already has filed a federal lawsuit against drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline in an attempt to revoke the company's patent on the anti-HIV drug AZT, announced Thursday that it has asked the court to stop the company from enforcing its patent protection on the medication until the lawsuit is resolved.

AHF, the largest provider of HIV care in the United States, is seeking to invalidate Glaxo's patent on the anti-HIV drug, which is also part of the company's combination pills Combivir and Trizivir, because much of the compound's development was funded by taxpayer dollars. AZT was created in 1964 as a possible cancer medication by government researchers. The lawsuit also contends that Glaxo overcharges for the drug, particularly in developing nations.

"They lied to the patent office in the 1980s about discovering AZT's ability to treat AIDS and in doing so secured exclusive rights to manufacture it," said AHF president Michael Weinstein. "AZT was developed with federal assistance in the 1960s, and the National Institutes of Health tested it for HIV use in the 1980s, but Glaxo secured patents on the substance in the 1980s and locked competitors out. They then priced AZT at 32 times the cost of manufacture, a practice repeated with every new AIDS drug since then."

Glaxo officials call the lawsuit "frivolous" and plan to aggressively defend the company's patent. Officials at the pharmaceutical company also point to a December 5 ruling by the Canadian supreme court that upheld Glaxo's patent on AZT. That case was brought by two generic drugmakers who wanted to invalidate the Glaxo patent in order to make cheap generic versions of the anti-HIV medication.

Preliminary arguments in the U.S. case are set for March 10.