NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Eli Lilly and Co. is prepared to fight all the way to the Supreme Court to keep its patent protection for antidepressant Prozac, but the company is aggressively developing new products to compensate for the expected loss of sales when Prozac's patent expires, the drug maker's chairman said Friday.|
Sidney Taurel, the Indianapolis-based company's chairman, president and chief executive officer, reiterated that Lilly (LLY: Research, Estimates) is appealing a ruling that would strip Prozac's patent protection next year. The August ruling by a federal appeals court in Washington triggered a 30-percent one-day drop in Lilly's stock, and the company's shares are still trading about 21 percent below their 52-week high.
"We are asking for a rehearing on the decision by the appeals court, and if that fails we have the option of going to the Supreme Court, so the case is not over," Taurel said during an interview with CNNfn at a meeting of business leaders in Boca Raton, Fla. (WAV264K) (AIF264K)
But, he said, the company is operating under the assumption that generic versions of Prozac will go on the market in 2001.
Cheaper, generic versions of the drug are expected to cut sharply into Prozac's sales. Lilly has reduced its earnings outlook in 2001 and 2002 to growth in the single digits, mostly because of the anticipated rivals to Prozac.
The company was dealt another setback last week when it disclosed that it is halting a joint pact with biotechnology firm Sepracor Inc. (SEPR: Research, Estimates) to develop a next-generation version of Prozac, after a few patients participating in clinical trials developed cardiac-related side effects. Lilly said it is still pursuing two other experimental drugs in the antidepressant market.
Taurel said the company has nine products in late-stage clinical trials, including an experimental drug to treat attention deficit disorder that could rival Novartis AG's Ritalin.
The company has released data from a mid-stage Phase II trial suggesting that the drug, known as tomoxetine, may have fewer side effects than Ritalin. Lilly said that unlike Ritalin, its version is not a stimulant, is not habit-forming and does not cause insomnia.
"It looks very, very promising," Taurel said. "We believe that if the Phase III trials confirm what we have seen so far, this would be a very successful product."
If the drug wins regulatory approval, it could potentially go on the market by the end of 2002 or early 2003, he said.
Eli Lilly shares slipped $1.63 to $85.88 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.