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BYU reaches settlement with Pfizer in lawsuit

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SALT LAKE CITY — Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Brigham Young University have settled a multibillon-dollar lawsuit involving the drug Celebrex.

Terms of the agreement, apparently reached in talks over the weekend in San Francisco, were not disclosed.

But a footnote in Pfizer's quarterly financial report released Tuesday refers to a "$450 million charge in connection with an agreement-in-principle to settle a lawsuit by Brigham Young University related to Celebrex."

Neither side would confirm a dollar figure.

Pfizer described the settlement as "amicable" in a press statement.

"As part of the resolution, BYU will establish the Dan Simmons Chair in recognition of Dr. Simmons' lifelong work and contributions towards advancing human health in a number of important areas including oncology, pain and Alzheimer's," the statement said.

“We are pleased to resolve this matter and the uncertainty of litigation and to be in a position to support Dr. Simmons' research efforts at BYU."

We are pleased to resolve this matter and the uncertainty of litigation and to be in a position to support Dr. Simmons' research efforts at BYU.

–Pfizer statement

BYU issued a statement saying it is "very pleased with how this matter has been resolved. By terms of the settlement, our response this morning can only reiterate what is stated in the released press statement."

BYU and Pfizer were locked in a bitter six-year court battle over the discovery of an enzyme that led to the development of Celebrex, a revolutionary drug to treat arthritis and inflammation. An eight-week jury trial was scheduled to begin May 29 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

Just last week, Pfizer accused BYU of "going on the offensive" to taint the jury pool by telling its side of the story to local media outlets, several of which aired stories on the case. The company asked a federal judge to postpone the trial or move it to New York or Missouri.

BYU contended that both sides have spoken to the press over the years and news stories or statements were not likely to prejudice potential jurors.

In October 2006, BYU and Simmons sued Pfizer, claiming the drug giant unfairly profited from his work and cheated the professor out of professional credit and compensation.

Celebrex sales have topped $35 billion since going on the market in 1999. BYU contended it deserved "reasonable royalties" of 15 percent or $9.7 billion. The figure could have stretched to more than $100 billion if BYU had also sought compensation for punitive damages, profit margin, interest and future sales.

The so-called “super-aspirin” blocks the COX-2 enzyme, reducing pain and inflammation without triggering the sometimes deadly gastrointestinal effects of some other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin. COX is scientific shorthand for the enzyme cyclooxygenase.

For seven months in 1991 and 1992, Simmons and BYU had a research agreement with Monsanto, which was later acquired by Pfizer.

According to BYU, Simmons' research about the COX-2 enzyme was critical in the development of Celebrex, yet Monsanto ended the agreement, without including him or the university in the credit or compensation.

Pfizer claimed it met all of its obligations under the agreement. It argued the lawsuit had no merit and that BYU and Simmons made unfounded allegations against the company in an effort to capitalize on its commercial success.

Contributing: John Hollenhorst

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