Gilead Sciences should pay Merck & Co $200 million in damages for hepatitis C patent, a federal jury decided.
The amount is less than what Merck had demanded in the patent case. Merck asked for $2 billion in damages from Gilead as two Merck patents were infringed by the former. The hepatitis C drugs at the heart of the dispute include Harvoni and Sovaldi have dominated the market with combined sales of more than $20 billion in the United States in 2014 and 2015.
Merck heavily contested that it was their scientists who paved the way for the liver therapy breakthroughs to come into fruition. They further claimed that the findings helped Gilead to formulate Sovaldi and Harvoni, making Gilead as one of the biggest biotechnology companies in terms of market valuation.
The jury decided in favor of Merck after it was established that the patented compound, particularly sofosbuvir of Merck and Ionis have similarities with the main active ingredient found in Gilead's Harvoni and Sovaldi drugs. Merck contested that because of this, the company should have 10 percent in royalties from the United States sales of the aforementioned drugs.
"Gilead blatantly used Merck's own patent to make billions of dollars," said Merck attorney Bruce Genderson. He added that the company is happy that Gilead was able to market the drugs but they need to give credit to Merck.
After winning its dispute with Gilead, Merck still needs to prove that their recently FDA-approved next generation hepatitis C therapy Zepatier would do well in the market after being launched late compared to Gilead's Sovaldi.
The dispute started two and a half years ago as Merck claimed that it was in their laboratory about 15 years ago that sofosbuvir was formulated before Pharmasset Inc. was acquired by Gilead.
"Although we are disappointed by the jury's verdict today, there are a number of remaining issues to be decided by the jury and the judge," said Gilead spokeswoman Michele Rest in an email statement.
Hepatitis C, a liver infection, is caused by the hepatitis c virus that affects about 3.2 million of Americans. Since the disease rarely cause symptoms, prompt diagnosis remains a problem. Symptomatic patients would often complain of easy fatigability, stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, and yellowing of eyes and skin known as jaundice. The virus can be acquired through sexual contact with an infected person, needle sharing, or during childbirth (if the mother is infected).