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Assessment of damages in Lasco-Pfizer suit push back to July

Published:Sunday | January 3, 2016 | 1:00 AMBarbara Gayle
Lasco chairman Lascelles Chin

Lasco Distributors Limited has claimed

that it suffered US$300 million in damages when it

was barred by a court order from distributing the drug Amlodipine (Norvase) which is used to treat high blood pressure.

Last month LASCO put in its claim in the Supreme Court to recover the money from international pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which had obtained an injunction against LASCO and Medimpex Jamaica Limited from distributing the drug. Medimpex is also claiming a substantial sum for its losses, but has not yet filed its expert report.

The injunction, which was granted in 2005, remained in effect until 2012 when the United Kingdom Privy Council upheld rulings by the local courts which favoured LASCO and Medimpex.

LASCO, which is being represented by attorneys-at-law Vincent Chen and and Sylvan Edwards, stated in court documents filed last month that the amount being sought is to recover the market and interest it had lost.

A judge will assess damages on July 16 next year.

The parties had been in court since 2002 when Pfizer complained that the companies were infringing on its patent and eventually got court orders blocking them from selling their products.

A pretrial review was held on December 2 last year in relation to the assessment of damages and certain orders were made by Justice Audre Lindo. Pfizer has been given permission to call an expert witness and file a report on that by April this year.

Medimpex, which is being represented by attorneys-at-law Dr Lloyd Barnett and Ian Robins, was given until March 18 to file and serve its expert report.

The time for filing and exchanging witness statements for all parties has been extended to May 23. Submission of questions to all experts is extended to May 30.

The assessment of damages was set for January 18 to 22, but Justice Lindo set the hearing for five days commencing July 16 to give the parties sufficient time to comply with the court orders.

Pfizer was granted the patent for the drug Amlodipine in Jamaica on January 22, 2007.

In 2009, former Supreme Court Judge Roy Jones ruled that since Pfizer's patent had expired in Egypt from March 31, 1997 it could not legally register the patent in Jamaica.

Under the Patents Act of 1857, once a patent expires in another country, it cannot be registered in Jamaica.

Pfizer then took the matter to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that Jones erred.

But LASCO and Medimpex argued that Pfizer's patent in Jamaica was invalid as it had expired in another country on March 31, 1997.

They further argued that the substance used in the production of the blood pressure drug was published in journals and made available for public and common use in Jamaica from October 1986.

The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the 2009 Supreme Court ruling and ordered Pfizer to pay compensation and legal costs, which would run up to J$1 billion.

In handing down its decision, the Court of Appeal made several recommendations.

It ordered that an enquiry be conducted as it regards damages payable to the two companies.

The court also said the 1857 act needed urgent legislative intervention. It noted that a draft bill was done some years ago with a view to modernizing the statute, but to date, nothing has materialised.

The court said it was universally accepted that the existence of patent in the pharmaceutical industry limits the supply of alternative drugs for quite a number of years, so steps should be taken by the relevant authorities in order to bring about the well-needed changes.

LASCO and Medimpex sold generic forms of the drug which were cheaper than what was being sold by Pfizer.

barbara.gayle@gleanerjm.com