Attorney General Hardy Myers today sued pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb, Inc. alleging that the company violated federal and state antitrust laws by monopolizing the market to maximize profits from the sale of the cancer-fighting drug, Taxol. Oregon joined a group of 29 other states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in filing the lawsuit in the federal district court in Washington, D.C.
"This giant pharmaceutical company acted illegally to keep the cheaper, generic version of Taxol off the market," Myers said. "As a result, cancer patients and others were forced to pay significantly higher prices for the life-saving drug."
Taxol is Bristol's trade name for paclitaxel, an anti-cancer drug used in the treatment of ovarian, breast and a variety of other cancers. Paclitaxel, the actual pharmaceutical ingredient in Taxol, was initially discovered by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and was developed and tested by the NCI at taxpayer expense.
From 1992 to 1997, Bristol was given five years of exclusive marketing rights for Taxol by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Bristol acknowledged publicly that it no longer had a right to exclusively market Taxol after December 29, 1997. This meant that after that time, generic competitors could enter into the market with a less-costly generic version of the drug and compete with Bristol for the sale of that drug.
Nonetheless, Bristol then pursued patent protection for certain methods of administering Taxol and was awarded two such patents in 1997. In 1998, a number of drug manufacturers declared their intent to bring a generic version of Taxol to the market but were blocked by Bristol, using these patents to bring a patent infringement action against them.
Since 1998, Bristol's sales of Taxol have totaled at least $5.4 billion. A standard course of treatment using the name brand drug can cost from $6,000 to $10,000 per patient.
Today's lawsuit alleges that Bristol knowingly manipulated the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office process by filing misleading information as part of their Taxol patent applications. This allowed Bristol to fraudulently secure patents that had no legal validity. As a result of this unlawful activity, generic drug manufacturers were prevented from entering the marketplace until 2000 and hospitals, cancer patients, and states were forced to pay nearly a third more for Taxol treatments.
Oregon Department of Justice, along with most of the 29 other states, is seeking restitution for several state agencies, civil penalties for violating the anti-trust laws and changes in the way Bristol operates. There also are private actions against Bristol pending in federal courts in the District of Columbia and New Jersey.
Attorney General Myers is a member of the National Association of Attorneys General Pharmaceutical Pricing Task Force that monitors the broad range of issues regarding pharmaceutical pricing. The group assists the states with current and future lawsuits concerning the industry.
As a result of skyrocketing pharmaceutical prices, Attorneys General throughout the country have individually or collectively taken action against illegal marketplace manipulation and improper patent monopolization.
Consumers wanting more information about consumer protection in Oregon may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us.
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