Good news for AstraZeneca came yesterday in the shape of European backing for a process patent supporting its multi-billion-dollar selling anti-ulcerant Nexium.

German generic drugmaker Ratiopharm made four claims against the patent protecting Nexium’s (esomeprazole) manufacturing, but the European Patent Office ruled against the firm in this case, rejecting all four but making amendments to two “to make it very clear what was being upheld”, a spokesman for AstraZeneca explained to PharmaTimes.

Late last year, AstraZeneca was left stunned after the EPO revoked one of Nexium’s substance patents challenged by Ratiopharm, so the firm will be particularly pleased with this latest ruling, which means that the drug’s manufacturing is protected until 2015, ensuring that it can continue to manufacture and produce Nexium until this time, the spokesman said.

The decision should also go some way to reassuring investors concerned over the potential hit to sales should Ratiopharm have been victorious; following its introduction in Nexium fast became one of AstraZeneca’s top sellers, pulling in a whopping $5.2 billion in 2006, $1.2 billion of which stemmed from Europe.

Ratiopharm has the right to appeal the decision, but the spokesman stressed: “We strongly believe in Nexium’s intellectual property, and will continue to defend it vigorously.”

AZ/NPS deal ends

Meanwhile, NPS pharmaceuticals announced that its 2001 deal with AstraZeneca to discover and develop drugs targeting metabotropic glutamate receptors – which could play a role in diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease schizophrenia - has been terminated by mutual agreement.

The UK drug giant has agreed to pay NPS $30 million to buy its assets related to research collaboration, which, the US group says, it intends to use to support further development of its late-stage product pipeline.

“Monetising our interests in the mGluR program at this time enables us to create greater near-term value for NPS shareholders,” explained NPS president and chief executive, Tony Coles. “This strategic move creates investment flexibility for NPS and enables us to use the monies from this deal…to support the further development of our late-stage pipeline products, Preso and Gattex, in specialty indications,” he added.