The Dark Side of the World’s Bestselling Drug: Brainstorm Health

Good afternoon, readers.

I’ve been working on a story about Humira, the world’s best-selling drug—and the aggressive tactics that manufacturer AbbVie, No. 381 on this year’s Fortune Global 500, has taken to protect its cash cow.

The feature will appear in the August print issue of Fortune alongside plenty of other fascinating pieces about the companies on this year’s Global 500 list. I encourage you to grab a copy off a newsstand (or, better yet, get yourself an honest-to-God Fortune subscription). But in the meantime, you can read the piece on good old, where it went live this morning.

Humira, a drug that’s legitimately improved the lives of patients based on groundbreaking science that led to a Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year while ringing in nearly $20 billion in 2018 sales, should be an exemplar of profitable pharma innovation. And yet, conversations with analysts, biopharma executives, lawyers, and academics reveal the flip side of the fantasy—of a broken R&D and sales model that raises prices for patients and payers while stifling innovation. No small part of that is thanks to Humira manufacturer AbbVie’s particularly aggressive approach to patents.

A sampling of what experts told us:

“I think of AbbVie as a pioneer—not just in medical treatments but also in legal protections,” Robin Feldman, a professor at the UC Hastings College of the Law and author of Drugs, Money, and Secret Handshakes, told Fortune

“Branded product sponsors like ­AbbVie have found many more opportunities to conclude that little wrinkles in the manufacturing process are innovative and can be protected by patents,” said Robert Cerwinski, an attorney at Goodwin Procter.

Of AbbVie’s recently proposed $63 billion mega-deal with Botox maker Allergan?

“This is an example of a pharma company doing a financial transaction—it has nothing to do with science; it has 100% to do with financial engineering,” said Brad Loncar, a biotechnology investor focused on cancer immunotherapy. “People have been overpaying for Humira for a long time in the United States. And what has the company done with the proceeds of that? They’ve done a major financial deal for, of all things, Botox.”

Check out the full piece here—and let me know if you have any thoughts on the state of innovation among big pharma companies.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee, @the_sy_guy,