A saga with twists

As promised last week, here is another episode of the ezetimibe SPC saga. Just like last week, Lionel Vial reports on the latest twists.

After having applied, on the basis of European patent EP0720599 (EP’599), for a first French SPC for ezetimibe alone (FR03C0028), then for a second one for ezetimibe in combination with simvastatin (FR05C0040), Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. (Merck) has sought to secure a third one for ezetimibe in combination with atorvastatin (FR14C0068) corresponding to the medicinal product Liptruzet®.

However, if the first two SPC applications were granted by the INPI (French patent office), the third application was met with a decision for refusal that Merck appealed.

It is the appeal decision, rendered on January 22, 2019, that we will discuss today.

The 1960s, a decade of many twists – now, that’s a far-fetched one.

As a reminder from our previous post, EP’599 specifically claims ezetimibe in claim 8 and a pharmaceutical composition for the treatment or prevention of atherosclerosis, or for the reduction of plasma cholesterol levels, comprising an effective amount of ezetimibe, alone or in combination with a cholesterol biosynthesis inhibitor selected from the group consisting of lovastatin, pravastatin, fluvastatin, simvastatin, CI-981, DMP-565, L-659,699, squalestatin 1 and NB598, in a pharmaceutical acceptable carrier (claim 17).

Cl-981 is atorvastatin, a statin (i.e. an inhibitor of cholesterol biosynthesis) that was known before the filing date of the patent. The patent discloses results of biological tests obtained for ezetimibe alone (compound 6a in the last table of the example section of the patent) but does not disclose experimental results specifically obtained for a combination of ezetimibe and atorvastatin.

SPC application No. FR14C0068 was filed for ezetimibe in combination with atorvastatin or the pharmaceutical acceptable salts thereof, including the calcium salt of atorvastatin.

The INPI rejected the application on February 6, 2018 for lack of compliance with article 3(c) of Regulation (EC) No. 469/2009 (“the SPC regulation”) which provides that a certificate shall be granted if, at the date of the application for an SPC, “the product has not already been the subject of a certificate“.

The INPI mainly based its rejection on the previously granted SPC of ezetimibe alone (FR03C0028) and on the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in case C-443/12 (Actavis v. Sanofi, Irbesartan):

Where, on the basis of a patent protecting an innovative active ingredient and a marketing authorisation for a medicinal product containing that ingredient as the single active ingredient, the holder of that patent has already obtained a supplementary protection certificate for that active ingredient entitling him to oppose the use of that active ingredient, either alone or in combination with other active ingredients, Article 3(c) of [the SPC Regulation] must be interpreted as precluding that patent holder from obtaining – on the basis of that same patent but a subsequent marketing authorisation for a different medicinal product containing that active ingredient in conjunction with another active ingredient which is not protected as such by the patent – a second supplementary protection certificate relating to that combination of active ingredients.

Subsidiarily, the INPI considered that even if the combination of ezetimibe with an HMG-coA reductase (i.e. a statin) could be considered to constitute a different innovation from ezetimibe alone, which the INPI denied, then SPC No. 05C0040 (for ezetimibe in combination with simvastatin) would be opposable to the grant of a new SPC.

Merck lodged an appeal against the decision of rejection before the Paris Cour d’appel on May 4, 2018.

During the proceedings, the INPI came to agree with the appellant that the combination of ezetimibe and atorvastatin complied with the requirements of article 3(a) of the SPC.

The only question that the Cour d’appel had to answer was therefore whether the combination of ezetimibe with atorvastatin is a different product from ezetimibe alone or from the combination of ezetimibe and simvastatin.

Let’s see what the Cour d’appel decided:

The combination of the statin atorvastatin with ezetimibe must constitute a product – within the meaning of the regulation – different from the combination of the simvastatin statin with ezetimibe, subject of SPC No. 05C0040, in order for the condition of article 3(c) of the regulation to be fulfilled.

However, claim 17 of the patent gives a list of the different statins with which ezetimibe can be combined indifferently and without distinguishing them, and the combination of ezetimibe with a statin as provided by [claim] 17 has already been the subject of SPC No. 05C0040 granted for the combination of ezetimibe and simvastatin; it is not justified within the terms of the patent that the result of the combination of ezetimibe with atorvastatin constitutes a different product from the combination of ezetimibe with simvastatin.

The 599 patent relates to “hydroxy-substituted azetidinone compounds useful as hypocholesterolemic agents in the treatment and prevention of atherosclerosis, and to the combination of a hydroxy-substituted azetidinone of this invention and a cholesterol biosynthesis inhibitor for the treatment and prevention of atherosclerosis” and SPC No. 05C0040 has been granted for the combination of ezetimibe with a cholesterol biosynthesis inhibitor, simvastatin, so that the combination of ezetimibe with another statin, atorvastatin, which is not protected as such by the patent, cannot justify the grant of anew SPC.

The condition of article 3(c) being unfulfilled because of SPC No. 05C0040 “ezetimibe in combination with simvastatin” the appeal of MSD against the decision dated February 5, 2018 of the Director of the INPI will be rejected.

To summarize, the Cour d’appel has decided that the EP’599 basis patent protected as such two different products: (i) ezetimibe and (ii) ezetimibe in combination with a statin.

Besides, the Cour d’Appel has also decided that the various particular statins cited in claim 17 were not protected as such, so that the combination of ezetimibe with atorvastatin could not be distinguished from the combination of ezetimibe with simvastatin, both of them being variations of the same product “ezetimibe in combination with a statin”. Therefore, the combination of ezetimibe with a statin, in particular atorvastatin was already the subject of an SPC (FR05C0040 for a combination of ezetimibe with a statin, in particular simvastatin).

In deciding so, and in relation to the preliminary injunction previously discussed based on SPC FR05C0040 (covering the drug Inegy®), it could be hypothesized that the Cour d’appel has acknowledged that the product ezetimibe in combination with simvastatin is protected as such by the EP’599 patent and is different from the product ezetimibe. However, this would be a dramatic change over the previous decision of the Cour d’appel regarding this SPC (discussed here).

Let’s take this occasion to try to summarize the ezetimibe saga so far:

Product SPC Drug Generic company Decision type Date Result
Ezetimibe + simvastatin FR05C0040 Inegy® Biogaran Appeal following preliminary injunction (CA Paris) 2018/06/26 Preliminary injunction denied (SPC likely invalid)
Ezetimibe + simvastatin FR05C0040 Inegy® TEVA Judgement (TGI Paris) 2018/10/25 SPC valid
Ezetimibe + atorvastatin FR14C0068 Liptruzet® Appeal (CA Paris) 2019/01/22 SPC rejected
Ezetimibe + simvastatin FR05C0040 Inegy® Mylan Preliminary injunction (TGI Paris) 2019/03/07 Preliminary injunction granted (SPC likely valid)

Needless to say, we are eagerly awaiting the next decisions of the Cour d’appel to see more clearly which direction the French case law is taking in matters of combination SPCs.

Many thanks as always Lionel for the thorough summary. This truly is a murky subject.

Lionel’s working hypothesis on the decision is that the court may have acknowledged that the product ezetimibe in combination with simvastatin is different from the product ezetimibe. But this is really a matter of interpretation of the ruling. In my view the ruling states that the product ezetimibe in combination with atorvastatin is the same as the product ezetimibe in combination with simvastatin but does not take a clear position on the product ezetimibe in combination with (any) statin compared with the product ezetimibe alone.

The thing is, during the court proceedings, the INPI simply relied on the existence of the prior combo SPC FR05C0040 and not (i.e. no longer) on the existence of the mono SPC FR03C0028 as a reason for objecting to the second combo SPC. Thus, the court did not have to rule on the comparison with the mono SPC.

Also, it can be noted that the January 22 ruling was issued by exactly the same panel as the one that held that the first combo SPC was likely invalid last June.

It is certainly possible that these judges may have changed their minds in this respect since then but to me the second ruling is inconclusive in this respect.

To be continued, definitely.


CASE REFERENCE: Cour d’appel de Paris, pôle 5 chambre 1, January 22, 2019, Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Directeur Général de l’INPI, RG No. 18/10532

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