Israel Defies AbbVie IP To Import Generic Drugs For COVID-19

By Dani Kass
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Law360 (March 19, 2020, 3:52 PM EDT) -- Israel is allowing generic versions of AbbVie Inc.'s HIV drug Kaletra to be imported to treat coronavirus patients, even though the drug is still patent protected in the country, according to Thursday media reports.

The country's attorney general is, for the first time, invoking a 1967 patent law that allows a generic version of a drug to be approved even if the branded version is still patent protected, according to reporting in Bloomberg Law. The generic drugs will not be given to HIV patients, said a Reuters report.

The Israel Ministry of Health has said the viral drug could be a possible treatment for patients with COVID-19 and granted a preliminary permit, according to media reports. But a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine testing the use of Kaletra in China cast doubt on the treatment, finding it ineffective.

The Justice Ministry said AbbVie and an importer aren't able to provide "the necessary inventory" of the branded drug, so they need to turn to alternatives, according to Reuters. The Israeli patents are good until 2024, but they've expired in India and elsewhere, the news organization added.

"Given this important public health crisis, AbbVie commits that we will take all steps necessary to remove any potential barriers to alternate sources of supply, including dedicating to the public our intellectual property related to lopinavir/ritonavir," the company said, referring to the ingredients in Kaletra. "We will communicate with generic manufacturers our intention."

Representatives for Israel's Justice Ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. 

The health ministry said Thursday that 573 Israelis have tested positive for COVID-19, according to news reports.

AbbVie brought in $245 million in worldwide Kaletra sales last year, according to the company's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

--Editing by Gemma Horowitz.

Update: This story has been updated with a comment from AbbVie. 

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