Wyeth submitted a request for a patent term extension for Israel Patent Number 120701 titled “2 – PHENYL – 1 – [4 – (2 – AMINOETHOXY OR PROPOXY) ) – BENZYL] – INDOLE COMPOUNDS AND PHARMACEUTICAL COMPOSITIONS CONTAINING THEM ” The patent issued on 26 December 2005 and the basic 20 year protection period will run out on 18 April 2019.
On 17 June 2012 Conbriza was registered in the Israel register of drugs. Conbriza contains bazedoxifene acetate. This was the first Israeli registration of Bazedoxifene for medicinal purposes and so, on 19 October 2015, a patent term extension order issued for Conbriza, until 14 April 2022.
On 16 November 2016, the drug Duavive which contains bazedoxifene acetate together with conjugated estrogens was registered in the Israeli register. The Applicant explained that Duavive is a more modern version of Conbriza which Pfizer (which owns Wyeth) had developed and is marketing in Israel.
The treatments are both for treating the symptoms suffered during menopause, such as the so-called hot flushes.
On 22 May 2017, the Wyeth informed the patent office that Conbriza was taken off the drug register and Duavive was registered. Wyeth claimed that the change should not affect the patent term extension since both drugs contained bazedoxifene, and that the patent term extension should be calculated from the first of the registrations.
Following this notification, the Applicant was invited to attend a hearing under section 149 before a ruling issued. The Applicant did want to attend such a hearing and on 5 July 2017 the Commissioner Ophir Alon indicated that in the hearing, which was held on 31 July 2017, the Applicant would explain why they felt that the provisions of Section 64(vii)(3) should not apply in this case.
Section ii(1) of Chapter D of the Law deals with patent term extensions. Inter alia, Section 64D of the Law states that:
64D. The Registrar shall not grant an extension order, unless the following conditions have been met:
(1) The material, the process for its production or its use, or the medical preparation that incorporates it or the medical equipment was claimed in the basic patent and the basic patent remains in effect;
(2) In respect of a medical preparation—a medical preparation that incorporates the material is registered in the Register of Medical Preparations under regulation 2 of the Pharmacists Regulations (Medical Preparations) 5746—1986 (hereafter: Pharmacists Regulations);
(3) The registration said in paragraph (2) is the first registration that allows the material to be used in Israel for medical purposes;
(4) No extension order was granted previously in respect of the basic patent or in respect of the material.
From here, it is clear that the condition for giving a patent term extension is that there is a registration of a drug that includes the active ingredient and it is the first registration that allows the active ingredient to be prescribed in Israel, which was not previously subject to a patent term extension.
Section 64L states the cases where a patent term extension lapses. In 64L(3) it is stated that:
64L. An extension order shall laps in each of the following instances:
(3) If registration of the medical preparation that incorporates the material was cancelled—on the day on which the registration was cancelled;
Thus the wording of the black letter law seems to be that if the registration including the active ingredient is cancelled, the Patent Term Extension is cancelled as well.
The Applicant’s claim is that in cases where the company that registered the first drug has a number of registrations for different drugs containing the active ingredient, the Legislators did not intend that the protection period would lapse simply because one of these was cancelled. Rather, the legislators intended that only in cases where at some time after the issuance of the extension period, there are no registrations of drugs including the active ingredient in Israel, the extension period would lapse. In such an instance, where there are no drugs on sale in Israel there is no legitimacy in keeping the patent term extension active and so Section 64L(3) applies.
The Applicant claims that since Duavive contains the active ingredient and was registered before the registration of Condiza was cancelled, one or other preparation containing the active ingredient was continuously registered in Israel and so the patent term extension remains in force.
The Purpose of the Patent Term Extension Regime
As known, the term of a patent is 20 years from filing in Israel [or from the PCT filing date – MF] subject to paying extension fees. This period is the accepted balance between the desire to encourage inventors on one hand, and to enable the population to benefit from technological advances on the other.
This balance has a special regime for pharmaceuticals and medical devices that is given by Section B1 of Chapter 4 of the Law. This regime compensates patentees for delays in registration but allows the generic drug industry to prepare for market entry to the benefit of the population as a whole. Where the conditions of the Law are met, it is possible to extend patents for pharmaceuticals and medical devices by up to five years.
This is how things were presented on page 18 of Appeal 8127/15 Israel Association of Industrialists vs. Mercke Sharpe and Dohme Corp, 15 June 2016:
The purpose of the extension period is to compensate the patentee for the period of patent protection that is de facto lost due to the amendment of the patent law. The period of protection in Israel and other countries having patent term extensions takes into account the period that the patentee takes to register the drug which is longer than the period lost by the patentee. However, in the Draft Amendment by the Committee for Constitution, Law and Justice it is stated that the extension is for the period that the patent for the drug is registered but regulatory approval by the Ministry of Health has not yet occurred, and so the extension is identical to this period. Either way, the main purpose is to provide fair compensation to the patentee.
Explaining section 64L(3)
As stated previously, there are two possible interpretations to Section 64L(3) of the Law. In the first explanation the words “registration of the medical preparation that incorporates the material was cancelled” relates only to the first registration, as defined in Section 64D(2), so that when the first registration is cancelled, the patent term extension ends.
The second explanation, proposed by the Applicant, is that one should understand the words “registration of the medical preparation that incorporates the material was cancelled “ as relating to all drugs that include the active ingredient and not merely the first one to be registered, so that there are no drugs including the active ingredient on the register.
The New Commissioner Ophir Alon considers that the interpretation is in line with the rationale of the Law proposed by the Applicant. As stated previously, the intention of the legislator was to compensate the patentee for the period required to register the drug. Section 64D of the law refers to the conditions for granting a patent term extension. The purpose of 64D(2) of the Law is to ensure that the active ingredient has undergone registration, and that of 64D(3) to ensure that that this was the first instance of the active ingredient being registered.
Since these conditions are fulfilled, it does not seem that there is much significance in the first registration specifically, that its cancellation requires cancellation of the patent term extension and cancelling the compensation that the law provides the patentee, whilst the active material remains registered, albeit with other active ingredients.
Registration of more advanced or better drugs that include these active ingredients is desirable. Such registration is likely to require additional registration by the Ministry of Health. Adopting an interpretation under which the cancellation of the first registration for which the patent term extension period was calculated automatically results in the cancellation of the patent term extension will lead to a situation in which the patentee who has several registrations will have to keep the registration of a drug not being sold in force merely to keep the patent extension in force. This is artificial and not desirable.
However, accepting the second interpretation allows the patentee to cancel or not renew the first registration whilst keeping the patent term extension in place to protect additional drugs subsequently registered. This prevents circumstances where a patent term extension is in place but no drugs are registered for sale in Israel.
In summary, it appears that the correct interpretation of the Law is to compensate the patentee for the period he could not exploit his patent whilst waiting for regulatory approval, which includes protecting the public interest by promoting development of new treatments, and these aims are achieved by the interpretation allowing the extension to stay in force as long as there are drugs that include the active ingredient.
This interpretation serves the purpose of the Law and the public interest as it provides an incentive for the patentee to develop new versions of its drugs, that are more advanced or more efficacious than the original treatment, and allows the cancellation of registrations that are n longer marketed.
The Commissioner is aware that linguistically, the objective pronoun “the medical preparation” apparently relates to the medical preparation mentioned previously. Nevertheless he does not think that a literal reading helps to clarify things in this instance. For example, if we were to take a literalist approach to understanding section 65L(3) we would wonder what the legislator intended by “including the ingredient” at the end of the section, since it is clear that the medical preparation whose registration was the basis of the patent term extension includes the active ingredient, as stated in Section 64D(2):
(2) in respect of a medical preparation—a medical preparation that incorporates the material is registered in the Register of Medical Preparations under regulation 2 of the Pharmacists Regulations (Medical Preparations) 5746—1986 (hereafter: Pharmacists Regulations);
FROM THE GENERAL TO THE SPECIFIC
The cancellation of the Conbriza registration occurred after Duavive was registered, and so in one form or another the active ingredient was continuously registered from when Conbriza was registered until today.
So, by applying a purpose-driven interpretation to Section 64L(3), the registration was never cancelled and from when the patent term extension was issued until today, the medical preparation was under continuous protection.
The medical preparation Duavive includes the bazedoxifene ingredient together with conjugated estrogens. In other words, to create continuity in the registration, the active ingredient has to be identical to the one for which registration was granted. The Patent Term Extension for Israel Patent No. IL 120701 will remain in force subject to the Applicant submitting an Affidavit that the combination of the bazedoxifene ingredient together with the conjugated estrogens does not create a new material. This affidavit must be submitted within 30 days of this ruling.
Ruling concerning the Patent Term Extension for Israel Patent No. IL 120701 for bazedoxifene (Conbriza and Duavive), Ophir Alon, 15 October 2017
This ruling could be a baptism of fire for the new Commissioner.
The main question that the appointment of a new commissioner generates is whether he will favour the drug development industry or the genetic drug industry. The sums of money generated every day of a patent term extension and in supplementary patent protection for variants such as changes in dosage regimes is enormous. In this regard, Israeli companies are involved as both generic players and as drug developers. Despite TEVA being the world’s most successful generic drug provider, It was Teva’s Copaxone falling over the so-called patent cliff that caused the massive drop in share prices and layoffs, rather than lost sales of generics.
Here the Commissioner has taken an analytical approach to the law, trying to understand the rationale rather than the most literal interpretation. This is in line with guidelines penned by Former Chief Justice Aharon Barak who was known for such interpretations, which perhaps less charitably and more formalistically could be described as subverting the Law as legislated to further lofty aims as he saw them. Such creative interpretations coupled with him declaring that Basic Laws were constitutional and reading into them powers that the Knesset never intended, has led to judicial activism that those on the right see as undermining the Knesset as legislator, and those on the left see as saving democracy from the people’s elected representatives.
I remember litigators that represent the drug developing companies saying during Dr Meir Noam’s term as Commissioner, that, until he was replaced, their clients could not get justice. I do not know if this was fair. Dr Noam was a chemist, and generally where he accepted Unipharm’s arguments that an opposed patent application lacked novelty or inventive step, their arguments were persuasive, or at least seemed so to me. Nevertheless, in practice, he did rule in favour of the generic companies, but his rulings held up on Appeal.
At the start of his term in office, the previous Commissioner, Adv. Asa Kling, could not rule on cases where one side was represented by Reinhold Cohn or Gilat Bareket because of a perceived conflict of interest. Centocor Ortho Biotech Inc. received regulatory approval for a pharmaceutical preparation described in IL 154325.
From the affidavits submitted by employees of the agents for applicant (Reinhold Cohn Patent Attorneys) it is clear that, despite the firm being organized and having procedures in place to cover patent term extensions, there was human error. The deadline was missed and this was discovered seven months later.
Section 164 A1 of the patent law states that:
164.—(a) The Registrar may, if he sees reasonable cause for doing so, extend any time prescribed by this Law or by regulations under it for the performance of anything at the Office or before the Registrar, except for…section 64… …unless he is satisfied that the application in Israel was not submitted on time because of circumstances over which the applicant and his representative had no control and which could not be prevented;
The Deputy Commissioner Jacqueline Bracha threw Reinhold Cohn a life-line by ruling that mistakes were unavoidable, thereby allowing a missed deadline for requesting patent term extensions to be retroactively extended despite the Law being unequivocal that the deadline was not extendible. For more details, see here.
The patent term extension legislation has been amended several times, in the third, seventh and eleventh amendments to the Israel Patent Law.
The third amendment was ambiguous and in an ex-partes ruling affecting three patents in what is now known as the Novartis ruling, Then Acting Commissioner Israel Axelrod understood that the amendment was designed to give a real advantage to the drug development companies and they could choose the country to base their patent term extension on. This was not what the Knesset intended and the amendment was again amended in what was the Seventh Amendment of the Israel Patent Law, to tidy up this and other ambiguities of the original amendment. Israel Axelrod, who was widely expected to be appointed as Commissioner but instead, was side-ways promoted to the Beer Sheva District Court.
In 2006, under intense pressure from the US who put Israel on their special 301 Watch List of countries not properly protecting Intellectual Property, the State of Israel amended their Patent Law again.
Arguably the Commissioner is correct that the purpose of the Law is to strike a balance between the conflicting interests. Arguably, however, as in the Novartis ruling and subsequent amendment, the intention of the legislators remains to provide narrowest possible intention to rules governing patent term extensions, to encourage generic competition, thereby favoring local industry over foreign companies, and providing cheap medicine. We should bear in mind that the legislation was the result of heavy US protectionist pressure, and in the same way that the US government tries to benefit US interests, it is (at least arguably) legitimate that the Israel Law is intended to protect local interests as much as possible.
Teva is not, of course, the only Israel company to bring a drug to market. Neurim managed to patent Circadine which is a treatment for insomnia based on melatonin, and also obtained patent term extensions around the world. In the UK, the patent office refused to grand a patent term extension arguing that the active ingredient was used in a treatment for sheep. Judge Arnold upheld the patent office’s position, see patent term extensions for Neurim which was appealed to the House of Lords, and Lord Robin Jacobs referred it to the European Court of Justice ECJ in his last ruling on the bench. The ECJ took a similar position to that of the current commissioner, preferring an interpretation that considers the rationale behind the law to a literalist ruling.
The main problem with ex-partes rulings is that arguments of the other side are not heard. It is not inconceivable that Duavive works and Conbriza didn’t, not because of a new material being developed but because of some symbiotic effect between the bazedoxifene ingredient and the conjugated estrogens. In this instance, Duavive was developed by Wyeth/Pfizer but it is not inconceivable that such a drug could be developed by a third party. If the Conbriza formulation is not on sale and no other drug by the patentee, should Wyeth-Pfizer be entitled to a drug term extension past the main patent lapsing? Another hypothetic question worth considering is that an active ingredient protected by a patent term extension could actually not be so active at all, and could be co-dispensed with a drug that itself is active, but cannot be patented. The combination could be protected by the patent term extension in a scam designed to defraud the public. I am not alleging that this is the case here. I have no ideas what conjugated estrogens do or how they work. I am merely highlighting a slight logical flaw in the Commissioner’s reasoning.
That as may be, this ruling is a brave but reasonable one. Being ex-partes it cannot be challenged directly, but could be challenged by TEVA, Unipharm or some other generic company launching a Bazedoxifene containing formulation during the extension period. The Knesset could also decide to amend the Patent Extension Law to rule out this interpretation if they deem fit to do so.