Is The Skinny Label Back From the Dead?

January 12, 2022By Sara W. Koblitz

Since the August 2021 decision in GSK v. Teva, the generic industry has been waiting with bated breath to see whether the section viii carve-out (and thus skinny-labeled generic drugs) will survive.  With the District Court of Delaware’s January 4 decision in a similar case (brought by GSK’s lawyers), Amarin v. Hikma, the generic industry can have some hope.  Relying heavily on the Federal Circuit’s contention that the decision in GSK v. Teva was a “narrow, case-specific review,” Judge Andrews dismissed Amarin’s suit against Hikma in which Amarin alleged that Hikma’s skinny-labeled generic icosapent ethyl induced infringement of Amarin’s method-of-use patents.  The Court, however, would not dismiss similar allegations as applied to health insurer.

In the wake of GSK v. Teva, in which the Federal Circuit reversed the District Court of Delaware’s decision to overturn a jury verdict finding that Teva induced infringement of GSK’s method-of-use patents covering carvedilol, several Reference Listed Drug (“RLD”) sponsors sued generic manufacturers marketing skinny-labeled versions of their products under the same induced infringement theory that prevailed in GSK v. Teva.  (The Federal Circuit twice reversed the District Court decision at issue in GSK v. Teva, but Amarin v. Hikma was filed in November 2020 after the Court’s first decision issued in October 2020.)  One of those RLD sponsors, Amarin, sued generic sponsor Hikma for induced infringement of method-of-use three patents listed in the Orange Book for Amarin’s Vascepa (icosapent ethyl) after FDA approved Hikma’s product with the patented use carved out, alleging that Hikma’s approved label “is ‘not skinny-enough.’”  Amarin also sued Health Net, an insurer that provides coverage for both Vascepa and Hikma’s generic.

The procedural background of Amarin v. Hikma (unlike that of GSK v. Teva) is simple:  Amarin received FDA approval for Vascepa as adjunct to diet to reduce triglyceride levels in adult patients with severe hypertriglyceridemia in 2012 (referred to as the “SH indication”) and as an adjunct to statin therapy in patients with elevated triglyceride levels and established or risk factors for cardiovascular disease in 2019 (the “CV indication”).  Amarin listed Vascepa in the Orange Book with multiple patents, including several method-of-use patents covering only the CV indication.  In accordance with the statutory “section viii” provision, FDA approved Hikma’s generic product referencing Vascepa in May 2020 omitting information pertaining to the patented CV indication.

Five months later, Amarin sued Hikma for induced infringement arguing, essentially, that Hikma’s labeling does not adequately carve out Amarin’s protected method of use concerning the CV indication and thus induced infringement of Amarin’s patents.  Specifically, Amarin alleged that Hikma’s label “teaches CV risk reduction” due to “a notice regarding side effects for patients with CV disease” and an absence of a statement that the generic “should not be used for the CV indication….”  Hikma countered that the notice of side effects for patients with CV disease is a warning, not an instruction to use the product in CV patients, and that Hikma has no duty to provide a statement discouraging an infringing use.  The Court agreed with Hikma, finding that a warning “is hardly instruction or encouragement.”  The Court also explained that the Federal Circuit has already rejected Amarin’s argument that generic labels must contain a clear statement discouraging use of the patented indication.  Further, the Court noted, Amarin did not sufficiently plead that Hikma, “took affirmative steps to induce” infringement in its labeling.

Amarin also argued that Hikma’s non-label claims—public statements, including press releases and its website—induced infringement by stating that Hikma’s product is the “generic equivalent to Vascepa” and that Vascepa “is indicated, in partfor the SH indication while citing to sales numbers for Vascepa in all indicationsAmarin also took issue with the statement on Hikma’s website that its generic icosapent ethyl isAB rated” in the “Therapeutic Category: Hypertriglyceridemia.”  Ultimately, the Court explained that the question here is whether these statements are sufficient to support inducement “without a label or other public statements instructing as to infringing use.”  The Court said that they are not, as these statements “might be relevant to intent but they do not support actual inducement.”  “Intent alone is not enough; Amarin must plead an inducing act.”

The Court took pains to distinguish Hikma’s labeling and promotion from Teva’s in GSK v. Teva.  There, the Court explained, Teva’s promotion of carvedilol for as a cardiovascular agent that is a generic of GSK’s Coreg for the “treatment of heart failure,” as well as its direction to the partially carved-out labeling—as opposed to Hikma’s more general “AB rated” language—differentiated GSK v. Teva from this case.  The Court again made sure to emphasize language from GSK v. Teva explaining thatit is still the law that ‘generics could not be held liable for merely marketing and selling under a “skinny” label omitting all patented indications, or for merely noting (without mentioning any infringing uses) that FDA had rated a product as therapeutically equivalent to a brand-name drug.”

Taking induced infringement for skinny labeling in a different direction, Amarin also sued health insurer Health Net.  Amarin alleged that Health Net’s formulary placement induces infringement of Amarin’s method-of-use patents covering Vascepa.  Specifically, Health Net lists Hikma’s generic in a lower tier than Amarin’s Vascepa, making the product available for a lower co-pay when the generic is dispensed.  Given state automatic substitution laws, Amarin alleges that Health Net’s placement of Hikma’s generic on the formulary “leads to substitution on ‘all VESCEPA (sic) prescriptions, not just the prescriptions directed to the’ SH indication.”

The Court denied Health Net’s Motion Dismiss, finding that Amarin pled enough facts to allege that Health Net knew of Amarin’s CV patents, made affirmative acts to induce infringement by placement on the formulary, and had specific intent to induce based on the listing of the patented indication on the insurer’s generic icosapent ethyl capsules prior authorization form.  Thus, the court concludes, “Health Net’s placement of generic icosapent ethyl on a preferred tier encourages the substitution of the generic for the branded drug, including for the patented indication.”  The issue, explained the Court, is the incentives the formulary puts in place to prescribe the generic regardless of the indication.  Whether Health Net induced infringement is a “factual question” that cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss.

As we have learned from GSK v. Teva, Amarin’s case against Hikma could still end very differently if it is appealed to the Federal Circuit.  In GSK v. Teva, the District of Delaware was certain that Teva’s promotion did not induce infringement of GSK’s patent, going as far as to overturn a jury verdict, but the Federal Circuit reversed.  Amarin could appeal this dismissal, and the Federal Circuit could do the same here and reinstate the case.  So, while generic sponsors may have a brief reprieve from concerns that the skinny-label is altogether dead, the Federal Circuit could kill it once again.  Thus, until the Federal Circuit addresses this case, it’s difficult to read too much into the decision here.  Of course, if the Federal Circuit doesn’t hear this case, the Court’s fact-specific inquiry suggests that the implications of GSK v. Teva are less far-reaching than initially believed.

The case against Health Net introduces another wrinkle to the skinny-label debate though.  That insurers may have some liability for induced infringement merely by listing a skinny-labeled generic on a formulary could dissuade health insurers from covering skinny-labeled generics.  This would either force patients to brand-name products or to pay out of pocket for generics; in either scenario, it would increase prices for patients.  But thus far Amarin’s allegations have only survived a Motion to Dismiss; it’s entirely possible that this theory of induced infringement is rejected by the Court sometime in the future.

We still have a way to go until there’s certainty with respect to the future of the skinny label.  GSK v. Teva is still awaiting a decision from the Federal Circuit on Teva’s request for rehearing from the full panel, Amarin may appeal the Hikma decision, and the claims against Health Net must still be litigated.  So while we’re hesitant to say that the skinny-label has been resuscitated, we’re not ruling out the possibility of resurrection.