It was mostly smiles at Pfizer yesterday as the UK High Court rebuffed a challenge from Indian generic drugmaker, Ranbaxy, in ruling that the principal patent covering the blockbuster cholesterol-lowerer, Lipitor (atorvastatin), is valid. However, a second patent was declared invalid.

Hank McKinnell, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive, said: “This is an important victory, not only for Pfizer but for all innovators pursuing high-risk medical discoveries that benefit current and future generations of patients around the world.” Lipitor’s main patent is not due to expire until 2011 and, with the drug soon expected to reach $12 billion dollars in annual revenues, the US giant is unsurprisingly keen to hang on to its star drug for as long as possible.

The decision pushed Pfizer’s share price up during trading on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, reflecting the emphasis industry observers had put on the case at a time in which generics firms are becoming ever more aggressive in their bid to launch cheaper copycat offerings. Although the UK market is, of course, relatively small in comparison to the USA – it comes ahead of a decision later this year on Pfizer’s US patents covering Lipitor – and likely gives investors some comfort that it will see another positive ruling for the pharmaceutical industry. However, Pfizer itself warned that the court’s decision was based entirely on British law and “has no bearing on” the US patent litigation.

Ranbaxy says it intends to appeal the decision, similarly Pfizer is expected to appeal the decision on Lipitor’s second disputed patent. “This court decision is consistent with the fundamental principle that patent laws exist to support and encourage medical innovators, not undermine them,” concluded McKinnell.

- Meanwhile, Ranbaxy says it has won final US Food and Drug Administration approval for three doses of the epilepsy drug gabapentin in capsule form, also manufactured by Pfizer as Neurontin. Total sales for Neurontin were $2.2 billion dollars, with sales of the capsules totalling $1.2 billion of this figure, according to IMS (June 2005).