In Amgen v. Apotex, the Federal Circuit rejected Apotex’s arguments that the 180-day pre-marketing notice requirement does not apply to biosimilar applicants who participated in the “patent dance” process of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (“BPCIA”), expanding on its decision in Amgen v. Sandoz that 42 USC § 262(l)(8)(A) is a mandatory, stand-alone requirement. The Supreme Court has asked the Solicitor General to weigh in on whether it should grant certiorari in Amgen v. Sandoz. Will this decision make the Court more or less likely to review the Federal Circuit’s interpretation of this important biosimilar statute? 

The Biosimilar Patent Dance

The biologic product at issue is Amgen’s Neulasta® (pegfilgrastim) product. Amgen describes pegfilgrastim as “a recombinantly expressed, 175-amino acid form of … human granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (‘G-CSF’) conjugated to a 20 kD monomethoxypolyethylene glycol (m-PEG) at the N-terminus.” After Apotex filed a Biologic License Application (BLA) seeking FDA approval to market a biosimilar version of Neulasta® (pegfilgrastim), the parties followed several steps of the patent dance procedures, which resulted in Amgen asserting U.S. Patent Nos. 8,952,138 and 5,824,784 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Those infringement claims are being litigated, although the ‘784 patent has been dropped since it expired.

The Biosimilar 180-Day Notice Dispute

As noted in the Federal Circuit decision, Apotex sent Amgen a letter on April 17, 2015, stating that it was “providing notice of future commercial marketing pursuant to 21 USC § 262(l)(8)(A), though Apotex lacked (as it still lacks) an FDA license.” Amgen sought a preliminary injunction to “require Apotex to provide … notice if and when it receives a license and to delay any commercial marketing for 180 days from that notice.” The district court granted that motion, citing the Federal Circuit decision in Amgen v. Sandoz that notice cannot be given before the biosimilar product is approved. Apotex appealed.

The Federal Circuit Decision

The Federal Circuit decision was authored by Judge Taranto and joined by Judge Wallach and Judge Bryson. The bottom line of the court’s decision is this:

The [§ 262(l)](8)(A) requirement of 180 days’ post-licensure notice before commercial marketing … is a mandatory one enforceable by injunction whether or not [the biosimilar applicant provided a copy of its biosimilar application to the reference product sponsor in accordance with  § 262(l)(2)(A)].

As it had in Amgen v. Sandoz, the court emphasized the “categorical” language used in the statute:

The subsection (k) applicant shall provide notice to the reference product sponsor not later than 180 days before the date of the first commercial marketing of the biological product licensed under subsection (k).

The court noted that § 262(l)(8)(A) “contains no words that make the applicability of its notice rule turn on whether the applicant took the earlier step of giving the [§ 262(l)](2)(A) notice that begins the § 262(l) information-exchange process,” and stood by its holding in Amgen v. Sandoz that the statute is “‘a standalone notice provision’ not dependent on the information-exchange processes that begin with [§ 262](l)(2)(A).”

Further justifying its decision, the court emphasized that the BPCIA created a “two stage” patent litigation process, and found that the 180-day pre-marketing notice is essential to the second stage. In that regard, it explained that the 180 day period “gives the reference product sponsor time to assess its infringement position for the final FDA-approved product as to yet-to-be-litigated patents,” and “gives the parties and the district court the time for adjudicating such matters without the reliability-reducing rush that would attend actions for requests for relief against immediate market entry that could cause irreparable injury.”

The court also considered and rejected Apotex’s arguments based on the relationship between § 262(l)(8)(A) and other sections of the BPCIA, such as § 262(l)(9)(B) and § 262(l)(9)(C), which give the reference product sponsor the right to bring delcaratory judgment actions when the biosimilar applicant fails to follow some or all of the patent dance procedures.

Requiring 180-Days Notice Does Not Extend The 12-Year Exclusivity Period

Perhaps Apotex’s most compelling argument was that the court’s interpretation of 262(l)(8)(A) effectively gives original biologic products 12.5 years of exclusivity rather than the 12 years provided by Congress in § 262(k)(7). The court dealt with this argument in two ways. First, the court noted that “§ 262(k)(7) by its terms establishes the 12-year date only as an earliest date, not a latest date, on which a biosimilar license can take effect” (emphasis added). Second the court hypothesized that the FDA could implement the 12-year exclusivity period by “issu[ing] a license before the 11.5-year mark and deem[ing] the license to take effect on the 12-year date.” In that case, the 180-days notice could be given in time to expire when the 12-year exclusivity period expires. 

(The FDA has not yet issued guidance or regulations on this issue, and is not bound by the Federal Circuit decision. Indeed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is the appellate court most likely to review the FDA’s interpretation of § 262(k)(7).)

What Will the Supreme Court Do?

As noted above, the Supreme Court has asked the Solicitor General to weigh in on whether it should grant certiorari in Amgen v. Sandoz. Since this decision is consistent with that one, it is not clear that it will make the Court more or less likely to hear the case. The opinion here provides a detailed summary of the patent litigation procedures of the BPCIA and the related sections of the patent infringement statute, 35 USC § 271. That analysis may make the Court more comfortable with the Federal Circuit’s interpretation, or could lead the Court to try its own hand at deciphering a statutory scheme that Judge Lourie characterized as deserving of  “a Pulitzer Prize for complexity.”