A week after submitting its combination asthma drug Symbicort to be marketed in the USA as a treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the firm has been told that its patents for that indication in Europe are no longer valid.

The European Patent Office’s Technical Board of Appeal has made a final ruling that the European Combination patent covering the use of Symbicort (formoterol/budesonide) for COPD has been revoked, following an appeal from generic manufacturers Norton Healthcare and Generics UK. Last October, the EPO pulled AstraZeneca's patent for the use of Symbicort as a treatment for asthma.

The patent is one of two covering the Symbicort combination in 22 countries, including the major markets of the UK, France and Germany, and was originally due to expire 2018. The second patent is currently being disputed.

AstraZeneca said it will continue to “defend and enforce its remaining intellectual property rights” protecting Symbicort. This includes patents and applications for processes, formulations and delivery devices with expiration dates up to 2019. Chief executive David Brennan added that Symbicort is a strong brand “and constitutes an important part of our growth potential for the coming years in Europe, where we have data exclusivity protection until August 2010”.

Worldwide sales of Symbicort reached $1.58 billion in 2007, with Europe accounting for $1.34 billion. The EPO decision led to a 1.4% dip in AstraZeneca’s stock.