Dry eye disease can be a huge moneymaker for pharmaceutical companies, considering how common it is.
One of the older prescription medications is an eye drop called Restasis. It was launched by Allergan in 2003 and had the dry eye market in its pocket early on.
Since it's launch, more and more treatments have become available for dry eye, producing competition for Restasis in the marketplace. Most recently, Allergan's patent for Restasis has been challenged by generic drug makers in attempts to produce a generic cyclosporine drop to treat dry eye disease.
Allergan has defended its patent in a new way by selling the rights to Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, a Native American community in upstate New York, for $13.75 million last month.
The tribe will lease the patents back to Allergan for a potential $15 million in royalties.
Native American tribes are granted sovereign immunity by the federal government, and the patent challenges against Allergan will likely now be dismissed under these grounds.
Legal counsel for the tribe has stated that if successful, these patent royalties could provide funding for tribes suffering from lower casino profits.
Other intellectual property patents have already followed suit; a tech company called SRC Labs has a similar agreement with the Saint Regis Tribe.
As criminal as this all sounds, lawyers have legal ground on this. It should stand unless this sovereignty loophole is closed legislatively.
Restasis is responsible for a huge share of Allergan's profits, second only to wrinkle reducer Botox. The average wholesale price of a 30-dose pack of Restasis has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and Allergan appears to be willing to go to any lengths to battle generic drug makers from bringing an alternative to the table.
At the end of the day, this just maintains a larger financial burden on our patients and the healthcare system as a whole. As frustrating as it might be for both eye care providers and patients, the battle with pharmaceutical companies goes on.
New treatments will continue to come out, and we will continue to find the most innovative ways to treat patients, whether they can or cannot afford branded medications.
Caroline Bundrick, O.D. is an optometrist practicing at Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.