In re Patent Term Extension for Patent No. 5,674,860 (Commissioner for Patents 2008)
Summary: The USPTO has rejected AstraZeneca’s request for an extension of its patent term on Symbicort. In its decision, the office gave two reasons: (1) new combinations of old drugs do not receive extensions; and (2) AstraZeneca missed the filing deadline by a day.
Intro: AstraZeneca’s drug Symbicort has two active ingredients: formoterol fumarate dihydrate and budesonide. Global Symbicort sales were $1.6 billion in 2007. The original patent application covering the combo invention was filed in 1991 by two of Astra’s Swedish scientists. The US version issued in 1997.
“Human drug products” require pre-market FDA approval – a long and expensive process. The FDA approved Symbicort in July 2006 – some 15 years after the original patent application was filed. This long delay is common, and the Hatch-Waxman provision of 35 USC 156 provides for an extension of the patent term based on these delays.
In this case, however, the USPTO has rejected Astra’s extension petition — finding the patent ineligible.
Combo Drugs: Under the statute, extensions are only granted if the patented “product … is the first permitted [and FDA approved] commercial marketing use of the product.” 35 USC 156(a)(5)(A). It turns out that each active ingredient in the Symbicort has been previously marketed – although the combination was new to the market. Applying the rule to the facts, the PTO found that the “product” had been previously marketed:
“Because both active ingredients in SYMBICORT have been previously approved for commercial marketing or use before the approval of SYMBICORT, Applicant's approval of SYMBICORT does not qualify as the first permitted commercial marketing or use of either active ingredient, as required by section 156(a)(5).”
Synergy is Irrelevant: Importantly, the PTO rejected the argument that the relevant “product” must include both active ingredients because they have synergistic value when combined.
“The term "product" as used in 35 U.S.C. 156 includes any new drug or antibiotic drug, "as a single entity or in combination with another active ingredient." 35 U.S.C. 156 (f)(2). Section 156(f)(2) says nothing about whether a combination is synergistic.”
This decision follows the CAFC precedent found in Arnold Partnership v. Dudas, 362 F.3d 1338 (Fed. Cir. 2004). In that case, the court rejected a PTE extension for Vicoprofen (hydrocodone/ibuprofen) announcing that the statute requires a component-by-component analysis for PTE extension:
“This statutory language requires this court to examine a drug product patent’s eligibility for extension on a component-by-component, or an ingredient-by-ingredient basis. The final phrase in subsection (f) –“including any salt or ester of the active ingredient, as a single entity or in combination with another active ingredient” – emphasizes this point. This final phrase of subsection (f) shows that the statute refers to a drug product on a component-by-component basis, not as a whole.” Arnold Partnership.
MPEP 2751 includes the interesting statement that “an approved product having two active ingredients, which are not shown to have a synergistic effect or have pharmacological interaction, will not be considered to have a single active ingredient made of the two active ingredients.” The PTO in its decision rejected the negative implication of this statement.
One Day Late: As an alternative reason for its decision, the Commissioner found that the PTE Petition had been filed one day late. It is always a trick to figure out whether the first day of a time period “counts.”
Section 156 announces that the due date is: "within the sixty-day period beginning on the date the product received [FDA] permission.” PTO rules spell this out more particularly – requiring the application be submitted “within the sixty day period beginning on the date the product first received permission.” 37 C.F.R. 1.720(f). Based on a “plain language” reading of the statute and rule, the PTO decided that the day that permission was granted counts as day one rather than day zero.
Because the FDA granted permission on July 21, 2006, PTO found that the sixty-day period ended on September 18, 2006. Astra filed its petition on September 19.
Astra can appeal “within TWO MONTHS of the mailing date of this letter.” The PTO’s letter was sent on June 13 – query whether the reply is due on the 12th, 13th, or 14th?