AstraZeneca: SPCs, marketing authorisations and Directive 2001/83 -- what's the safest bet?
The latest decision of the Patents Court for England and Wales refers another series of questions (three in total) on SPCs to the CJEU: AstraZeneca AB v Comptroller-General. This time the Court is revisiting the position where a "first authorisation" may be deemed to be a Swiss MA by virtue of its automatic recognition in Liechtenstein, following the CJEU's decision in Novartis (Cases C-207/03 and C-252/03).
It is important to note that the facts occurred before the introduction of the negative-list in Liechtenstein in 2006, which sought to prevent the automatic recognition of Swiss authorisations in Lichtenstein, but that is not to say the case is not relevant to products with SPCs where the first authorisation was in Switzerland and the negative-list was used.
In this case, AZ obtained a Swiss MA for gefitinib in March 2004 (when every Swiss MA was automatically recognised in Liechtenstein), which was suspended in October 2005 and not reinstated until December 2010. By December 2010, AZ had (in June 2009) obtained an MA via the centralised procedure and claimed that this should be the "first authorisation" from which to calculate its SPC term. To achieve this outcome, AZ argued that Novartis should be overturned or confined to its own facts.
Arnold J agreed that the law was not acte clair and referred two questions to the CJEU (which both AZ and the UK's Intellectual Property Office agreed were necessary):
1. Is a Swiss marketing authorisation not granted pursuant to the administrative authorisation procedure laid down in Directive 2001/83, but automatically recognised by Liechtenstein, capable of constituting the ‘first authorisation to place the product on the market’ for the purposes of Article 13(1) of Regulation 469/2009?Arnold J's third question deals with the consequences of the Swiss authorisation not counting as the "first authorisation" for the purposes of calculating duration (i.e. a 'no' to the first question) because it is deemed not to be compliant with Directive 2001/83:
2. Does it make a difference to the answer to the first question if:
(a) the set of clinical data upon which the Swiss authority granted the marketing authorisation was considered by the European Medicines Agency as not satisfying the conditions for the grant of a marketing authorisation pursuant to Regulation 726/2004 and/or
(b) the Swiss marketing authorisation was suspended after grant and was only reinstated following the submission of additional data?
The Court also addressed the more fundamental issue raised by the CJEU in Merz v Synthon and Generics v Synaptech (Joined Cases C-195/09 and C-427/09), whereby products authorised not in accordance with Directive 2001/83 were deemed outside the scope of the SPC regime altogether under Article 2.
3. If Article 13(1) of Regulation 469/2009 refers solely to marketing authorisations granted pursuant to the administrative authorisation procedure laid down in Directive 2001/83, does the fact that a medicinal product was first placed on the market within the EEA pursuant to a Swiss marketing authorisation automatically recognised in Liechtenstein which was not granted pursuant to Directive 2001/83 render that product ineligible for the grant of a supplementary protection certificate pursuant to Article 2 of Regulation 469/2009?Arnold J offers his thoughts on the answers to both issues. He considers that the earlier Swiss/Liechtenstein MA should be the "first authorisation" for the purposes of Article 13 because the factual scenarios set out in question 2 do not provide a cogent basis for distinguishing Novartis. However, Arnold J considers that, if the Liechtenstein MA does not count as the first authorisation because it is not Directive 2001/83-compliant, for the same reasons the product should fall outside the scope of the SPC regime and not be entitled to an SPC at all as it would have been placed on the market in Europe before the grant of a Directive 2001/83 complaint MA (i.e. following Merz and Generics).
If the CJEU's answer does not maintain the Novartis position as proposed by Arnold J, then the impact of a knock on affirmative answer to Q3 (following Merz) would be significant. SPCs granted before the negative-list would be vulnerable to revocation. Since 2006, although the negative-list procedure in Liechtenstein has provided a mechanism for companies to delay the automatic recognition of MAs between Switzerland and Liechtenstein, this procedure will need to be carefully assessed and managed pending CJEU clarification on this issue. At the very least companies will need to ensure their products remain on the negative-list pending a Directive 2001/83-compliant authorisation. The safest bet would be to ensure that the Swiss MA is delayed until after a Directive 2001/83-compliant European authorisation but this may not be commercially desirable or practical.
A niche blog dedicated to the issues that arise when supplementary protection certificates (SPCs) extend patents beyond their normal life -- and to the respective positions of patent owners, investors, competitors and consumers. The blog also addresses wider issues that may be of interest or use to those involved in the extension of patent rights. You can email The SPC Blog here