WASHINGTON--The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has
ruled in favor of Burroughs-Wellcome, the manufacturer of zidovudine
(Retrovir or AZT), on five of six patents that had been challenged
by two pharmaceutical companies hoping to win the right to produce
a generic version of the drug. The ruling should provide the company
with a monopoly on zidovudine until the year 2005.
The plaintiffs had claimed that Burroughs-Wellcome scientists
were not the sole inventors of the drug and that the patent should
be shared with the NIH, thus giving the government the right to
license the agent to other manufacturers.
The court held, however, that the Burroughs-Wellcome scientists
were the sole inventors, since they were the first to isolate
the agent. The NIH scientists' contribution of a method of assessing
the drug's therapeutic potential did not qualify them to be considered
inventors of the drugs, the court ruled.