Supreme Court ruling opens up market for ‘Pill Hill’ companies in Mississauga

File: Teva Canada says court ruling paves the way for the company to begin selling a generic version of Pfizer’s Viagra. (Tara Walton/Toronto Star)

A Supreme Court ruling Thursday has opened the door to generic or brand-name drug makers in Mississauga or Brampton to develop and sell cheaper versions of the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

As long as Health Canada approves, Brampton generic drugmakers such as Taro Pharmaceuticals Inc., Mississauga drugmakers Rambaxy Pharmaceuticals, Patheon Inc. or others such as GlaxoSmithKline in the city’s “Pill Hill” cluster of 25,000 drug industry workers, could decide to produce the hugely popular drug for the Canadian market.

None of the companies mentioned would comment Thursday on the Supreme Court ruling, referring calls from to their national industry organizations, which also declined to talk.

The multimillion-dollar case was launched five years ago against the Canadian unit of global drug giant Pfizer, by rival company Teva Canada Ltd., a generic drug maker headquartered in Toronto.

Shortly after the court decision, Teva Canada said the ruling paves the way for the company to begin selling a generic version of Viagra.

Teva Canada president and CEO Barry Fishman said a generic Viagra will not only result in millions in savings to consumers, but it will make this medication accessible to people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.

Local pharmacy owner Richard Diniz agreed and pointed out most insurance plans still don’t cover the cost of the drug.

Diniz said four 50mg prescription tablets retail for $60 – $65 and the 100mg dose is almost the same price. “For some people that cost is prohibitive,” said the man behind Hooper’s Pharmacy on Lakeshore Road East. “If all of a sudden the generic comes in at 30 per cent or 40 per cent cheaper, it’s still going to be significant.”

Teva’s generic version is expected to be priced significantly lower than Viagra.

Teva Canada, the former Novopharm Limited, employs about 1,500 people and is a division of Israeli drug giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the world’s largest generic drug maker.

In its lawsuit, Teva Canada managed to convince the Supreme Court that Pfizer intentionally hid the identity of a key chemical ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil, and violated federal patent law. Writing for a unanimous court, Mr. Justice Louis LeBel said patent legislation dictates that inventors can have an exclusive monopoly on a product provided they forthrightly disclose how it operates.

“If there is no quid – proper disclosure – then there can be no quo – exclusive property rights,” he wrote. Pfizer said it identified sildenafil adequately in its patent application. Pfizer Canada, which cut 300 jobs — more than a tenth of its Canadian workforce — in a cost-cutting move last month, is believed to have earned about $80 million last year from sales of Viagra. Pfizer was also hit hard with the expired patent for its globally successful cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.

Pfizer’s Viagra patent was issued in 1998 and was originally set to expire in 2014.

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