- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. sank nearly 7 percent yesterday as a generic drug maker disclosed it has begun selling a cheaper version of the big pharmaceutical company’s best-selling drug Plavix.

Apotex Corp. disclosed that it released a generic version of the blood thinner only hours after Bristol-Myers said in a filing with U.S. regulators that it expected to see the competing drug in the market soon.

Bristol-Myers shares dropped $1.56, or 6.9 percent, to $21.21 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Bristol-Myers and its marketing partner Sanofi-Aventis SA, which sells Plavix outside the United States, say their patent has been infringed, and are exploring legal and commercial avenues to fend off the generic competition.

However, under terms of an agreement the three companies signed, Bristol-Myers and Sanofi-Aventis can’t seek an injunction preventing the Canadian generic drug maker Apotex from selling the drug for five days.

Even if a judge grants an injunction, Bristol-Myers’ sales of Plavix sales may suffer substantially if Apotex has sold vast amounts of its products to distributors.

An Apotex spokesman wouldn’t comment on how much product it has sold or the price of its pills.

Sales of Plavix totaled about $5.9 billion last year. It is the second top selling drug in the world after Pfizer Inc.’s cholesterol medicine Lipitor.

Apotex is taking a huge risk in debuting its medicine because if a court later rules its product infringes on the Plavix patent, it will have to pay damages to Bristol-Myers and Sanofi-Aventis.

The focus on generic Plavix began in late July when Bristol-Myers and Sanofi-Aventis announced that the Justice Department had started a criminal probe into an out-of-court settlement that the companies brokered with Apotex.

Bristol-Myers and Sanofi-Aventis were prepared to pay Apotex a reported minimum of $40 million to delay start of its generic version of Plavix until June 2011, the year the primary patent protecting Plavix expires. FBI agents with a search warrant confiscated documents at Bristol-Myers’ Manhattan headquarters, and Sanofi-Aventis was served with a grand jury subpoena.

In yesterday’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bristol-Myers said it also received a grand jury subpoena to produce documents, along with subpoenas for Chief Executive Peter Dolan and another unidentified senior officer to testify. The company said it intends to cooperate fully.

Bristol-Myers shares dropped 4 percent on Friday when the chief executive officer of pharmacy benefits manager Medco Health Solutions Inc., David Snow, said in a conference call that his company expects a debut of generic Plavix later this year. A Medco spokeswoman later said the remarks were based on “market chatter.”

On July 31, Apotex told the companies it was no longer under obligation to pursue the settlement because of a lack of antitrust clearance. State attorneys general, who needed to approve the agreement along with the Federal Trade Commission, rejected the settlement.

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