* U.S. court dismisses motion for summary judgment
* Crestor patent case goes to full trial in Feb 2010
* Company remains confident on patents for blockbuster drug
* Shares down 0.5 percent
(Adds analyst comment, shares further details)
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Dec 14 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca (AZN.L) has failed to win a summary judgment in a patent battle over its blockbuster cholesterol drug Crestor, denying it early victory in one key aspect of a dispute that will go to full trial in February 2010.
A favourable summary judgment would have eliminated the most significant issue in the case — though it was always seen as a long shot by industry analysts.
A company spokesman said on Monday the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware had rejected its bid to dismiss claims of inequitable conduct made by generic companies seeking to invalidate Crestor’s all-important ‘314 patent.
Following Friday’s decision by Magistrate Leonard Stark, all issues of inequitable conduct will now be heard by Judge Joseph Farnan at the trial in February.
“We remain confident that we will prevail on these issues at trial,” company spokesman Neil McCrae said.
Shares in AstraZeneca fell 0.5 percent by 0906 GMT, underperforming a flat European drugs sector .SXDP. The decline was limited by a widespread belief that the company is still likely to win at trial.
“Resolution of inequitable conduct claims at summary judgment is a rare occurrence given the often-subtle issues surrounding intent. We continue to anticipate AstraZeneca will prevail in defending its ‘314 patent at the February 2010 hearing,” analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a research note.
Crestor sold $3.6 billion worldwide in 2008 and is a key driver for the Anglo-Swedish company as sales of older medicines fall away, with analysts expecting it to sell $6.92 billion in 2013, according to consensus forecasts from Thomson Pharma.
AstraZeneca is hoping for a fillip to Crestor’s prospects this week, when a U.S. advisory panel considers the benefits of giving the drug to a vast new group of patients with normal cholesterol levels but other risk factors. [ID:nN11259574]
The main U.S. patent protecting the medicine until 2016 is being challenged by a group of generics manufacturers including Apotex, Aurobindo (ARBN.BO), Cobalt, Mylan (MYL.O), Par, Sandoz NOVN.VX and Sun (SUN.BO).
They are contending that material information was omitted when the original Crestor patent was filed by AstraZeneca’s partner Shionogi (4507.T) and that this amounted to inequitable conduct. AstraZeneca denies the charge.
AstraZeneca’s action against all seven generic firms has been consolidated in the Delaware case. A subsequent challenge from Teva (TEVA.TA) in June 2008 is not included. (Editing by David Holmes and Mike Nesbit)