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Battling a bully - LASCO, Medimpex set to begin compensation fight with Pfizer

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2016 | 7:00 AMArthur Hall

Two minor blips on the international pharmaceutical radar will face off with one of the giants of the industry, starting tomorrow when the Supreme Court begins to hear the assessment of damages case involving all three.

The international pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, which has its corporate headquarters in New York, and local entities Lasco Distributors and Medimpex Jamaica Limited will return to the court to determine the level of compensation to be awarded to the Jamaican entities for losses they suffered when they were prevented from selling a generic form of the hypertension drug Norvasc.

Lasco has asked the court to award it US$311 million in damages, but Pfizer has countered that it should be paid no more than US$518,000 for the period it was not allowed to sell the drug.

In the case of Medimpex, Pfizer is asking the court to rule that it should not pay out more than US$68,000, instead of the US$11.5 million that the Jamaican entity is demanding.

The matter arose from an injunction granted to Pfizer in 2005 and remained in effect until 2012 when the United Kingdom Privy Council upheld rulings by the local courts which favoured Lasco and Medimpex.

Recovering interest lost

Lasco, in documents filed in court, has said the amount being sought is to recover the money and interest it lost because of the Pfizer injunction, which prevented it from taking advantage of the lower-priced drug it offered to thousands of Jamaicans who were in desperate need of the cheaper medication to fight hypertension.

The company has submitted documents which reflect an almost continuous increase in the sale of Norvasc during the period that Pfizer controlled the market, and argued that with its cheaper generic version, Las-Amlodipine, it would have eaten into the market share.

dominant market player

Lasco has also shown that it has become the dominant player in the market since the injunction was lifted, and is asking the court to reflect on those numbers in arriving at the level of damages.

The parties have 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.

Pfizer was granted the patent for the drug Norvasc 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. Pfizer, with its multibillion United States dollar balance, lost at the Privy Council and will spend the next five days trying to convince the local court to allow it to settle for much less than the local entities believe they deserve.

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com