US judge overturns Merck & Co.'s hepatitis C drug patent award against Gilead

A US judge voided a jury decision ordering Gilead Sciences to pay $200 million to Merck & Co. for infringing patents held by the latter related to hepatitis C drugs. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman determined that dishonest and duplicitous testimony by a retired Merck scientist played a part in the jury finding that the company was responsible for early discoveries that led to the development of Gilead's Sovaldi (sofosbuvir) and Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir).

Freeman said the scientist "intentionally fabricated testimony" and Merck supported his "bad faith conduct." Specifically, the judge ruled that Gilead proved that in the process of applying for its patents, Merck deceptively used confidential information from Pharmasset, which Gilead bought in 2011. However Merck said it would appeal the ruling as it "does not reflect the facts of the case."

In the case, Merck had sought a royalty of 10 percent on the roughly $20 billion in US sales that Gilead's hepatitis C drugs had generated from 2013 through 2015, although the jury awarded a 4-percent royalty on $5 billion in sales. In response to the ruling, Gilead said it "has always believed Merck's patents are invalid and unenforceable."

Commenting on the decision, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Asthika Goonewardene said "this is a nice little bump for Gilead who'd already accounted for the $200 million." Goonewardene  added "but of course, this is a big win and will be beneficial to Gilead and how they can claim ownership of the drug in the long run."

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