Gilead fends off Roche as hep C heavyweights fight for blockbuster rights

Gilead Sciences ($GILD) convinced an panel of arbitrators that rival Roche ($RHHBY) had no legitimate claims on Sovaldi, its record-setting hepatitis C treatment, but the antiviral pioneer still faces patent spats with a host of challengers looking to cash in on next-generation combo therapies for the disease.

Roche's case stemmed from a 2004 collaboration with Pharmasset, later acquired by Gilead for $11 billion, covering work on antivirals. According to Roche, that deal gave the company a license to sofosbuvir, now Sovaldi, and put it in line for a cut of the roughly $5 billion the drug has generated since its launch in January. Those claims amounted to nothing, however, as an arbitration panel ruled on Thursday that Roche failed to make its case, Gilead said in a regulatory filing.

But the drugmaker is hardly out of the intellectual property woods. AbbVie ($ABBV), Merck ($MRK) and Idenix Pharmaceuticals each has pending claims on sofosbuvir and, perhaps more importantly, on the soon-to-come cocktail therapies that stand to further expand the blockbuster hep C market.

Merck has been squabbling with Gilead for more than a year, claiming sofosbuvir infringes two of its patents and laying claim to 10% of the drug's sales in quickly countered lawsuit. This summer, Merck traded about $3.9 billion for Idenix, inheriting a wider battle with Gilead. Idenix is engaged in a legal wrangle with Gilead over sofosbuvir-related patents, pursuing lawsuits in the U.S. and Europe. For its part, Gilead has said the claims are without merit and stands by its intellectual property.

AbbVie, on the other hand, is creating a stickier situation for its rival. The Illinois company has broadly patented the idea of mixing a nucleotide with an NS5A inhibitor to treat hep C, the equation at play in many of in-development combo therapies across the industry. That includes Gilead's fixed-dose cocktail of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir, for which it expects FDA approval this year. If and when Gilead launches the mixture, AbbVie believes it's entitled to damages and royalties. Predictably, Gilead disputes that claim.

- read Gilead's filing