Kroger Sues Drug Firms Over Plavix Patent Pact

NEW YORK -- In an apparent bid to prevent three drug makers from postponing the release of Plavix into the lower-price world of generics, Kroger Co. here filed a civil antitrust lawsuit last Thursday to the trio alleging they've entered into an illegal settlement of a patent lawsuit involving the popular Plavix blood thinner.

In documents filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio, Kroger said the three drug firms, Sanofi-Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., and generic manufacturer Apotex Inc., in settling a dispute over the patent for Plavix, the world's second-biggest-selling drug, agreed to keep the patent protection for the drug in place until 2011.

Kroger's suit claimed that the settlement was illegal, and would deprive the "plaintiff and all other Plavix purchasers of the benefits of generic competition until 2011." The competition fostered by generics, the chain said, "benefits all purchasers of the drug, at all levels of the distribution chain."

The patent litigation settlement, which was reached earlier last week, sent shares of Bristol and Sanofi soaring as it alleviated concerns that generic competition to Plavix might arrive earlier, according to a Reuters report. The patent trial against Apotex had been scheduled to start in June.

Their agreement is still subject to approval from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, however, not to mention the roadblock now thrown up by the Kroger suit.
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