Abbott Laboratories has received a major boost with the news that a US court of appeal has overturned a $1.67 billion award to rival Johnson & Johnson over a patent dispute concerning the blockbuster Humira.

The long-running case began when J&J’s Centocor Ortho Biotech unit and New York University brought a lawsuit in 2007, alleging that Humira (adalimumab) infringed a patent relating to anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) antibodies. In 2009, a judge in Texas backed the two partners, ruling in favour of J&J, maker of rival drug Remicade (infliximab), and made the aforementioned award, made up of lost profits and royalties.

Now the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has reversed the award. In a 21-page ruling, it found that J&J's patent failed to describe fully human high-affinity anti-TNF antibodies and "at best describes a plan for making fully-human antibodies and then identifying those that satisfy the claim limitation".

However the court added that "a 'mere wish or plan' for obtaining the claimed invention is not sufficient"  Furthermore, it found that "the actual inventive work of producing a human variable region was left for subsequent inventors to complete".

Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel told PharmaTimes World News that "we are very pleased with the Appeals Court's decision" He added that "the evidence clearly showed that Abbott was first to invent a fully human anti-TNF antibody, Humira". J&J is disappointed, unsurprisingly,  and is considering an appeal.

Meantime, Abbott has unveiled plans to combine its US and international patented drugs business into one organisation, following the retirement of its US Pharmaceuticals unit chief Donald Patton. The combined business will be headed up by Carlos Alban, head of Abbott's international pharma business.