Brigham Young University's $1 Billion Lawsuit Accuses Pfizer of Fraud

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By Lois M. Collins and Geoffrey Fattah, Deseret Morning News, 19 Oct 2006

Brigham Young University and one of its professors are suing pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, claiming BYU was defrauded of profits of at least $1 billion and credit for work that led to the blockbuster drug Celebrex.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, weaves a tale of a trusting university that didn't know much about patents in biomedical breakthroughs and that was allegedly deceived by an experienced drug company.

The medication, in the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) class, is one of the so-called "super-aspirins." Celebrex and its second-generation drugs have had sales of more than $20 billion. The super-aspirin blocks the COX-2 enzyme, reducing pain and inflammation without triggering the sometimes-deadly gastrointestinal effects of some other NSAIDs, including aspirin. COX is scientific shorthand for the enzyme cyclooxygenase.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial in its claim that Pfizer and its predecessor companies, including Monsanto, unjustly took credit for and profited from the work of Daniel L. Simmons, a professor of biochemistry at BYU. The complaint alleges both fraud and misappropriation of trade secrets and says BYU and Pfizer's predecessor company Monsanto had a contract to develop such drugs together.

The pharmaceutical company instead terminated the contract "under fraudulent pretenses," hid information that BYU was entitled to about patents and profited handsomely while shutting the university out, the lawsuit says.

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