Astra wins key ruling on Losec

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The Independent Online
ASTRAZENECA, the Anglo-Swiss drugs giant, yesterday won an early skirmish in what is likely to become a drawn-out defence of its $5bn (pounds 3bn) ulcer drug Losec around the world.

An appeal court in Germany upheld a ruling that will block two German companies, Ratiopharm and Merckle, from selling cheap generic copies of Losec for the time being.

AstraZeneca made clear it would continue to pursue other would-be competitors via the courts. "We don't want to outline our legal strategy now, but we will press on," spokesman Staffan Ternby said. "We think this strengthens our position. It should make a lot of generic companies doubtful."

As the world's top-selling drug, notching up sales of $4.8bn last year, Losec is a tempting target for generic companies, who sell cheaper versions when patents expire.

Germany is Europe's biggest drugs market and, as one of the first countries where patents expire, has become a key test ground for the defence strategy. Losec sales in Germany last year were $185m, 4 per cent of the total.

Under Thursday's legal ruling, Merckle and Ratiopharm will be barred from selling versions of Losec, known generically as omeprazole, until a dispute in Germany over a formulation patent has been decided. That case is not due to start until next year.

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