Having often found itself in the dock in patent validity cases, Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is turning the tables and has filed infringement claims “against a number of finished dose companies” which will manufacture versions of the antidepressant sertraline or generic Zoloft.

Maker of the branded version of Zoloft, Pfizer, itself lost patent protection on the drug in June last year and Teva launched its generic version of the antidepressant in the USA in August. The firm was granted 180 days of marketing exclusivity which is due to end on February 6 but has taken a legal path which may lead to an extension.

In filing the complaint, Teva mentions four patents it holds covering processes of making sertraline which have expiry dates ranging from November 2019 to April 2023 and although it has not named the companies or indeed the number of firms it is suing, the Jerusalem Post names Novartis’ generic unit Sandoz and India’s Lupin as firms that are expected to launch their versions soon after Teva’s exclusivity ends.

Analysts impressed with Teva

Teva shares listed on the US Nasdaq slipped a little on the news but this is something of a rare event at the moment as the company has benefited from some glowing analysts’ reports of late. It has just been named as a top stock pick by analysts at Citigroup who said that “after a subpar 2005, Teva is facing possibly the best drug launch prospects in its history. We expect earnings to accelerate, driven by Teva’s own pipeline and Ivax’s contribution.”

Also Goldman Sachs has just upgraded Teva from 'neutral' to 'buy.' The analysts noted the series of concerns that has weighed down the generics sector as a whole, such as low prices, but for the Israeli group they say that “this coming year will be financially challenging, bringing the company to estimate that Teva's stock is expected to show significant improvement in its performance” and that it will grow rapidly in 2008.

Analyst Randall Stanicky added that another merger may soon be on the cards and estimated that Teva “has access to approximately $6 billion in investable cash that could be used for acquisition activity." He added that “given management's track record and positive share performance following historically-large transactions, a potential deal could represent a boost to the stock."