Graduate Students

Princeton Claims Patent Infringement on a Blockbuster Lung-Cancer Drug

May 06, 2009

Princeton University, which is building a new science building with proceeds from a professor’s invention that has become a blockbuster anticancer drug, has sued Barr Laboratories, accusing it of patent infringement. The suit was prompted by steps Barr took to develop a generic version of the drug.

Eli Lilly and Company is a co-plaintiff with the university in the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Delaware, as it is in two earlier lawsuits filed in June 2008 against two other generic-drug manufacturers, Teva Parenteral Medicines Inc. and APP Pharmaceuticals. (Teva’s parent company bought Barr in December.)

All three lawsuits revolve around the drug Alimta, which is used to treat a form a lung cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. The drug is based on a chemical compound developed by a former Princeton chemistry professor, Edward C. Taylor, who has described it as a cancer treatment that was some 60 years in the making. Princeton owns the patent on the compound, and Lilly sells the drug under license from the university.

Sales of Alimta topped $335-million in the first quarter of 2009, and according to documents released by Lilly, the company pays royalties to Princeton of a “single-digit percentage of net sales” — which would mean the share going to Princeton and the inventor could now exceed $120-million a year.

In December, Mr. Taylor and his wife, Virginia, donated $1-million to Hamilton College, in New York, to establish an endowed fund to support chemistry research there. Now an emeritus professor at Princeton, Mr. Taylor is a 1946 graduate of Hamilton. —Goldie Blumenstyk