[Ip-health] UCLA’s effort to patent a costly prostate cancer drug in India hurts the poor, critics say

Kim Treanor kim.treanor at keionline.org
Mon Oct 23 05:41:26 PDT 2017

James Peltz in LA Times on 24 October 2017

The story is below but we encourage readers to read this on the LA Times
website, as the traffic is good for the newspaper and journalist.

UCLA’s effort to patent a costly prostate cancer drug in India hurts the
poor, critics say

After scientists at UCLA created a breakthrough treatment for prostate
cancer, it generated more than half a billion dollars for the university.

But deals struck with drugmakers also obligated university officials to
help pursue patent protection for the drug around the world. Now, consumer
activists claim that UCLA’s efforts are propping up the drug’s high prices
— which can top $130,000 a year for a cancer patient in the U.S. — and
keeping poor patients in less-developed nations from getting cheaper

The university holds the patent on the chemical compounds its researchers
developed that were used to create the drug called enzalutamide, which is
sold under the name Xtandi.

UCLA in 2005 licensed the drug to San Francisco biotech firm Medivation
Inc., which sells the drug in partnership with Astellas Pharma Inc. of

Sales of the drug have skyrocketed since it received U.S. Food and Drug
Administration approval in 2012.

In 2015 — the final year Medivation was a stand-alone company and broke out
its financial results — Medivation reported worldwide Xtandi sales of $1.9
billion, up 80% from the prior year, and $1.2 billion of those sales were
in the U.S. market. The industry journal FiercePharma.com estimates global
Xtandi sales could reach $4.78 billion by 2020.

The drug’s potential was a major factor behind pharmaceutical giant Pfizer
Inc. buying Medivation for $14 billion last year.

UCLA currently gets no money from sales of the drug. The university and
others involved in the drug’s discovery sold their royalty rights in early
2016 to a firm called Royalty Pharma for $1.14 billion, with $520 million
going to UCLA itself. The school said it would use the cash for additional
research, scholarships and fellowships.

Now UCLA and the companies are seeking a patent for the drug in India,
sparking protests from at least two consumer groups, the Union for
Affordable Cancer Treatment (UACT) and Knowledge Ecology International

India is home to a major generic-drug industry, and the activists believe
that if UCLA and Xtandi’s makers drop their efforts to secure a patent
there, it will pave the way for the manufacturing of cheaper, generic
versions of the drug.

They also believe that the generics would become more available in other
countries if those nations knew that substantial generic supplies were
available from India.

The activists assert that Medivation and Astellas should not be allowed to
sell Xtandi “at excessive, unaffordable prices in India” because UCLA
developed the drug “using taxpayer funds” through grants from the National
Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army’s prostate cancer research program.

“This is a drug invented on government grants that has generated billions
in sales since entering the market,” Manon Anne Ress, UACT’s acting
director, said in a Sept. 20 letter to Dr. John Mazziotta, vice chancellor
of UCLA Health Sciences.

“Astellas is pricing Xtandi for high-income countries and elites only in
developing countries,” Ress wrote. “This is a direct consequence of UCLA
management of its patent rights.”

But UCLA contends that the school — because it owns the intellectual
property underlying the drug — is contractually obligated to help pursue
patents overseas under its licensing agreement with Medivation.

“The [UC] Regents are obligated to use their best efforts to keep the
patents licensed to Medivation from lapsing,” Mazziotta said in a Sept. 7
letter to the activists.

UCLA, as part of its sale of its royalty rights, is entitled to possible
additional payments if the drug’s future global sales reach a certain
level. But in its statement to The Times, UCLA said it was “highly
unlikely” that threshold would be reached “even if the patent in India is

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men after skin
cancer, and there were about 3.3 million American men who were living with
a prostate cancer diagnosis as of Jan. 1, 2016, according to the most
recent figures from the American Cancer Society.

An additional 161,360 American men are expected to be diagnosed with
prostate cancer this year, the society says.

A cancer patient typically takes four Xtandi pills a day or 120 a month,
and 120 capsules in the U.S. market are priced at $11,463, according to the
website GoodRx.com. That would be $137,556 for a year’s supply.

Prostate cancer is among those cancers “showing significant increase in
incidence rates” in India and the prostate “is the second leading site of
cancer among males in large Indian cities” including Delhi, according to
the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The activists last year asked the U.S. government to allow other companies
to sell Xtandi at lower prices in the U.S. market, again arguing that Uncle
Sam had that right because UCLA scientists had used the taxpayer-funded
grants to discover the drug.

The government rejected their request and, with Xtandi sales protected from
that threat, Medivation quickly became a takeover target. The sale to
Pfizer followed a bidding war that more than doubled Medivation’s stock

Medivation, UCLA and its partners already have made one attempt for a
patent in India but it was denied by the Indian Patent Office. UCLA’s group
is appealing to the Delhi High Court, an appeal the activists have urged
the university to drop.

“What’s special about this case is the fact that the University of
California is going against their own licensing policy by aggressively
seeking a patent in India on this drug,” KEI Director James Love said.

That policy, as UCLA summarized in a statement to The Times, is “intended
to facilitate all populations having access to medications and other
products and services made possible by UCLA innovation.”

But UCLA also noted the “concerns about prescription drug pricing” among
the activists and others and said it was willing to explore the problem

The school said “we are convening a working group to evaluate our approach
to technology licensing in ways that benefit California, the nation and the
developing world” while also continuing to give drug companies enough
incentive to commercialize its discoveries, just as Medivation did with

In the meantime, the activists contend that a daily dose of Xtandi is
selling in India for roughly 40 times a person’s daily income in that
nation, which they called “excessive and shamefully unaffordable.”


Kim Treanor
Knowledge Ecology International
kim.treanor at keionline.org
tel.: +1.202.332.2670

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