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In a novel step, a New York union accused AbbVie (ABBV) and seven other drug makers of anticompetitive behavior for striking deals that resolved patent lawsuits, but also meant that lower-cost biosimilar versions of the Humira treatment would not be available in the U.S. for several years.

In its lawsuit, Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery store workers, alleged that AbbVie “abused the patent system” and “erected significant barriers to entry to block biosimilar competition” by filing dozens of patents for Humira, its franchise product. Some of the more than 100 Humira patents — sometimes described as a “patent thicket” — extend to 2034.


Over the past couple of years, meanwhile, AbbVie also settled patent litigation with several drug companies — including Pfizer (PFE), Amgen (AMGN), and Mylan (MYL) — that sought to sell biosimilar versions of Humira, a rheumatoid arthritis treatment, in the U.S. A biosimilar is a nearly identical variant of a brand-name biologic medicine that has no clinically meaningful differences in patients, but comes at a lower cost.

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