Judge calls GlaxoSmithKline 'high-handed' over legal action from Biota

A Supreme Court judge in Melbourne, Australia has described as "high-handed" the delay by global pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in filing a defence against legal action from Biota Holdings last Friday.

Biota, an Australian biotechnology company headquartered in Melbourne, is suing GSK for an unspecified amount, claiming that GSK failed to support Biota's flu drug Relenza, which resulted in Swiss firm Roche stealing market dominance with it's own flu drug Tamiflu. Both drugs were developed based on CSIRO research - Relenza hitting the market first.

GSK licensed Relenza from Biota in 1990 and after its launch, captured 50% of the then emerging market for neuraminidase inhibitor (NAI) flu drugs in 1999/2000. But Biota said product sales went into free fall the following year after GSK cut virtually all its promotional efforts for the drug.

The current market for neuraminidase inhibitor (NAI) flu drugs is estimated to be as high as U.S. $1 Billion.

GSK holds the licence to develop and commercialise Relenza and should have filed a defence against Biota's claim by April 8.

Justice Simon Whelan criticised GSK's delay in filing a defence on Friday but also told lawyers for Biota that their client needed to provide particulars of its losses and damages and that it should not be an "over-reaching ambit claim" and ordered that GSK file its defence by May 11.

Biota says it needs commercially confidential documents from GSK before it can detail its claim for damages and losses.

The trial is expected to begin in mid 2006.

New research by Australia's CSIRO has suggested that Relenza may be a candidate treatment for the emerging Asian bird flu virus known as H5N1 strain.

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