Pfizer Inc. has settled a lawsuit filed by Brigham Young University over development of the blockbuster painkiller Celebrex for $450 million, according to a regulatory filing. Terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed in an announcement by the drug company and the Mormon Church-owned school in Utah. However, Pfizer said in a regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it was taking a $450 million charge against first-quarter earnings to settle the case.
BYU and Pfizer battled for six years over the discovery of an enzyme that led to the development of Celebrex, a breakthrough in the treatment of arthritis and inflammation. A jury trial had been set to start May 29 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. BYU had sought a 15 percent royalty on sales of Celebrex, or about $9.7 billion. The university also could have sought billions of dollars more in punitive damages and interest.
BYU’s lawsuit said a chemistry professor, Daniel Simmons, discovered the genetic workings of the drug in the early 1990s. It accused Pfizer of violating a research agreement the school made with predecessor companies. As part of the settlement, BYU plans to endow a Dan Simmons Chair in recognition of his lifelong work advancing human health.
“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 said in a brief statement. Neither side would comment further. In court filings, BYU said it had a research agreement with Monsanto, later acquired by Pfizer, for the development of a “super aspirin” — a drug that could reduce pain and inflammation without triggering gastrointestinal effects. Simmons claimed to have discovered an enzyme that caused those side effects, and the new drug works to disable it.
According to BYU, Simmons’ research was critical in the development of Celebrex, yet Monsanto and successor companies gave the chemistry professor no credit or compensation. In court filings, Pfizer claimed it met all of its obligations under the Monsanto agreement. It argued BYU’s lawsuit had no merit and that the school and Simmons were trying to capitalize on the commercial success of Celebrex. Pfizer had claimed that Simmons did not contribute to the development of the drug.
Last week, Pfizer accused lawyers for BYU of trying to taint a jury pool by briefing Utah media outlets on the upcoming trial. The drug company responded by asking a federal judge to postpone or move the trial out of Utah, but all that changed with what Pfizer called an “amicable” settlement.