Judgement in Lasco/Medimpex/Pfizer case expected Nov 3

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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The long-awaited decision in the case involving claims by Lasco Distributors Limited and Medimpex Jamaica Limited against global drug giant Pfizer Limited will be announced on Friday, November 3.

Judgement had been expected by the end of September after Justice Viviene Harris ended hearing evidence in April in order to determine the level of damages owed by Pfizer to the local firms for breach of patent.

However, although it was generally felt that the judge would have handed down her judgement by then, Lasco Distributors, in a financial statement to stockholders at its annual general meeting on September 29 at Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston, noted that while the hearing on the assessment of damages was completed on April 21 this year, the judge had reserved judgement and indicated that it would delivered “on or before” the first week of the Michaelmas term, which began on September 18.

Yesterday, the Jamaica Observer received confirmation that Lasco had been advised that November 3 had been fixed as the date for delivery of the judgement in the case.

According to figures made available to the Observer in July, Lasco is seeking from the court a total of US$490.1 million, including US$179.1 million in interest.

The Government would also benefit from the Lasco judgement, with taxes of approximately US$60 million expected if the total sum of US$490 million is granted.

But no latest figure has been available from Medimpex, a Caribbean company originally started in Jamaica by the Hungarian parent company, but which has since emerged as the major regional distributor of pharmaceuticals from Hungary and other countries.

Medimpex has been seeking US$11.5 million, which would add another US$2 million to the Government's tax windfall from the judgement, bringing the total payment to the local treasury to approximately US$62 million or J$7.25 billion.

Lasco Distributors has also indicated that its shareholders will benefit from the judgement, but has given no figure.

Justice Harris's judgement on the assessment is expected to finally bring to an end what is arguably the most significant and prolonged pharmaceutical industry case in Jamaica's legal history, involving local distributors of drugs and the often controversial leader in the global trade, Pfizer Limited, whose products include Viagra (sildenafil citrate).

The issue dates back to January 22, 2002 when Pfizer produced patent letters in the local Supreme Court for amlodipine besylate — a drug known to treat hypertension, which it markets under the brand name Norvasc. The letters were filed in 1992, but the patent was granted in January 2002, 10 years later, after the earliest patent for amlodipine besylate had already expired in Egypt.

However, Pfizer held that it had a valid Jamaican patent that would expire in January 2016, and got the local Supreme Court to issue an interim injunction preventing the local firms from marketing their generic versions of the drug until the case was completed.

the Jamaican Supreme Court held that Pfizer's Jamaican patent was invalid, as the Egyptian letters patent had expired before the Jamaican letters patent were granted, and ruled in favour of Lasco and Medimpex. the court then ordered an inquiry as to the damages they suffered under the interim injunction.

Pfizer appealed to the Jamaican Court of Appeal and, eventually, to the Privy Council in England and lost again. But, the Privy Council sent the case back to the Jamaican Supreme Court to determine the level of damages suffered by the local firms during the seven-year injunction which ended in 2012.

Lasco Chairman Lascelles Chin told the Supreme Court hearing in September 2016 that the injunction denied his company a projected 500 per cent growth in sales, for which he claimed US$311 million in compensation.

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