Eli Lilly slugs it out with J&J on Alzheimer's drug patent claim

With a new late-stage study being prepped for the Alzheimer's drug solanezumab, Eli Lilly found itself in a London courtroom this week defending itself against a patent claim by Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), one of its chief rivals in the risky game of Alzheimer's drug development.

J&J says that Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy Research & Development has a valid patent that is infringed on by solanezumab. And now Lilly ($LLY) argues that the case could delay the arrival of a new therapy for Alzheimer's in the U.K. before the J&J patent expires in 2018, according to a report in Bloomberg.

Both companies have had antibodies in Phase III designed to reduce levels of amyloid beta in Alzheimer's patients. The theory is that if a new drug can reduce levels of the toxic material in the brains of patients, then they can have an impact on the symptoms and progression of the memory-wasting disease which afflicts millions of people. But while both solanezumab and J&J's bapineuzumab failed Phase III, Lilly is going back to follow up on a signal it tracked in one study indicating that its drug had an impact on cognition in early-stage patients.

While the jury is still out on whether Eli Lilly has a product worth defending, it's been making the case that its drug uses a different mechanism of action, which should help the court reject J&J's claim. 

There's no doubt, though, that any approved product in this field would be worth a fortune. Analysts estimate that new drugs could fetch more than $10 billion. There have been more than 100 failures in the clinic and patients have been left clamoring for some kind of therapeutic intervention to slow or stop the disease. 

- here's the story from Bloomberg