AbbVie accuses rival of stealing blockbuster ‘trade secrets’ as clock ticks down on biosimilar assault

Two years before the first biosimilars to megablockbuster Humira are expected to hit the US market, AbbVie is taking one developer to court over allegations it stole trade secrets to create its copycat version.

AbbVie has filed suit against Icelandic biotech Alvotech for “injunctive relief and recovery of damages,” according to court documents dated Friday. The pharma accuses Alvotech of embarking on an “unlawful plot to surreptitiously take AbbVie’s confidential and proprietary trade secrets.”

The alleged scheme revolves around the hiring of Rongzan Ho, a former AbbVie team leader of Humira’s upstream manufacturing. In its complaint, AbbVie says Ho attempted three times to email “trade secret information” about the large-scale manufacturing of Humira to his personal account before leaving the company for Alvotech. The first two tries were blocked by the company’s security system, AbbVie alleges. But the third — an email titled “Keep in touch (AbbVie)” — was successful, according to the court documents.

AbbVie says Ho “affirmatively misrepresented” that he had expunged all AbbVie information from any devices, including his computer, external storage device, email or cloud storage upon leaving the job.

The company also accused Alvotech of continuing to recruit AbbVie employees with “intimate knowledge” of Humira’s manufacturing process, adding that two additional staffers were hired last May.

“Unless enjoined, Alvotech’s illegal actions will serve as a roadmap to use AbbVie’s trade secrets for both Alvotech and other companies that have not adequately invested in their own independent research and development,” the complaint reads.

A host of critics, including US lawmakers, have called AbbVie out in the past for its patent-aggressive approach with Humira. This past June, a US judge ruled in favor of AbbVie against allegations that it engaged in anticompetitive conduct to elbow out rivals.

When AbbVie’s main patent for Humira ran out in 2016, the company applied for a raft of new patents — a move that was further strengthened by agreements with Amgen, Samsung Bioepis, and Novartis’ Sandoz to keep biosimilars off the US market until 2023, that complaint said.

Back in August, AbbVie paid $24 million to settle a lawsuit brought forth by California’s insurance regulator, alleging that AbbVie bribed and rewarded physicians for Humira prescriptions. While AbbVie denied the claims, it agreed to look into how Humira is marketed in the state, according to a Reuters report. 

With the clock ticking on Humira, AbbVie has started making the case for its newer meds. Back in January, the company read out new Phase III data for its IL-23 Skyrizi, which showed the drug beat a placebo at reducing psoriatic arthritis patients’ symptoms from baseline after six months of treatment.

Reports surfaced earlier this month that AbbVie is also considering selling off the $5 billion women’s health portfolio it acquired from Allergan, in order to pay off debt and focus on new areas.

Unnamed sources told Reuters that AbbVie was working with Morgan Stanley to auction off the portfolio, which includes the Lo Loestrin Fe birth control pill. But when Endpoints News reached out for confirmation, a spokesperson replied: “We don’t comment on rumors.”