Allergan CEO gambles a multibillion-dollar franchise — and his company rep — on a high-stakes bet at an Indian casino op

BioregnumThe view from Endpoints News

Allergan CEO Brent Saunders scored some heavyweight kudos last fall with a social contract that condemned predatory drug pricing by the likes of Martin Shkreli and outlined the company’s commitment to R&D and access. But on Friday he squandered whatever moral clout he may have earned along the way with a legal gambit that looked too clever by half.

Here’s what happened:

Facing a patent challenge to its franchise drug Restasis, Allergan handed over the patents to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which has sovereign immunity against inter partes review challenges. The tribe — best known for its casino ops — handed back an exclusive license to the drug, collected $13.75 million and can look forward to millions more in royalties each year, unless the courts toss it all out as a cynical ploy cooked up by attorneys.

This had all the ingredients any reporter looks for in an attention-grabbing story.

  1. Toss in a pharma company at a time the industry is tagged with a rep for greed and a weak grasp of ethics.
  2. Add a legal maneuver that looked like it came from the office of Breaking Bad’s Saul Goodman.
  3. Stir in some protests from the tribe that casino gambling doesn’t offer a secure enough revenue stream to guarantee their future income.

What you get are some freshly baked goods from a long line of publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, etc., etc., etc.

“I believe it’s novel,” Allergan CEO Brent Saunders told CNBC. “The actions today really allow us to focus the defense of the Restasis patents in the federal court system and avoid the double jeopardy created by the IPR system.”

A car salesman I knew in Texas once told me if it doesn’t look good in a headline, don’t do it.

Allergan just vaulted that line.

The tribe, meanwhile, is offering its patent protection services to anyone else in the pharma industry that would like to shift their patents to their protected tribal lands — in exchange for a hefty fee of course.

Image: Brent Saunders Getty

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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