(Adds AstraZeneca reaction)
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L) lost a key European patent on its two-in-one asthma drug Symbicort on Thursday but the drugmaker said it did not expect the move to have an immediate impact on sales of the blockbuster.
Symbicort is an inhaled drug, which makes it technically challenging for generic companies to manufacture. The product is also protected by other patents and exclusivity arrangements.
The decision by an appeal board of the Munich-based European Patent Office is, nonetheless, a victory for generic drug manufacturers, who had sought to invalidate the patent covering Symbicort as a powder-based combination inhaled therapy.
The patent had been due to protect Symbicort in 17 countries until 2012.
However, the drug still has data exclusivity that prevents a generic competitor launching a copy before 2010 and AstraZeneca also has several other patents, including one protecting its Turbohaler delivery device valid until 2019.
AstraZeneca Chief Executive David Brennan said he was disappointed at the patent loss but argued Symbicort would remain an important growth driver for the next few years in Europe, as well as in the United States and Japan.
“We do not believe that the EPO (European Patent Office) decision will have an immediate impact in the EU or any impact on the U.S. or Japanese patents,” he said in a statement.
Symbicort, which competes with GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s (GSK.L) Advair, combines a steroid to fight inflammation and a beta agonist to open airways by relaxing muscles.
Sales of the drug totalled $1.18 billion last year, with Europe accounting for $1.02 billion, since Symbicort was only launched in the United States earlier this year.
Citigroup analysts estimate that European sales account for around 6 percent of operating profits.
((Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Gavin Haycock/Sue Thomas; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com; +44 20 7542 5082)) Keywords: ASTRAZENECA SYMBICORT/
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