By James Love
On November 17, 2017, Genentech, a subsidiary of the giant Swiss drug company Roche, together with City of Hope, a charity, filed a complaint in a U.S. District Court, seeking an injunction to block introduction of a Pfizer biosimilar version of Herceptin (INN: trastuzumab), as well as other remedies to infringement, including compensation for Roche’s lost profits if competition occurs. The complaint (Genentech vPfizer, 17-cv-1672, U.S. District Court, District of of Delaware (Wilmington), filed November 17, 2017) illustrates the complexity of the patent landscape on a drug placed on the market more than 19 years ago and the need for compulsory licensing of patents.
Trastuzumab is a very important drug for the treatment of breast cancer that is Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2-positive (HER2+). My wife was treated with trastuzumab for several years, and is currently on a follow-on Roche treatment named Kadcyla, which is a combination of trastuzumab and the small molecule DM1. (DM1 is an NIH funded drug now off patent).
The early development of trastuzumab was dramatic, and documented in such accounts as Robert Bazell’s very readable book, Her-2: The Making of Herceptin, a Revolutionary Treatment for Breast Cancer, published in 1998, and the 2008 movie Living Proof, starting Harry Connick, Jr.. Bazell’s book was referred in the New York Times and the New England Journal of Medicine. The Bazell book and the Living Proof movie provide a dramatic account of the unwillingness of Genentech to invest in the research that led to the approval of trastuzmab, and the role of the Revlon Foundation to support Dr. Dennis Slamon’s critical work at UCLA.