The Geneva-based biotechnology company, Serono, and its American competitor, Biogen, have taken their battle over rival drug treatments for multiple sclerosis to court. Lawyers for the two companies began presenting their cases to a Geneva judge on Wednesday.
The US firm has filed a complaint with the Geneva prosecutor against Serono after the Swiss drugs company broke a court order banning publication of data comparing the firms' drugs.
The row goes back to a study commissioned by Serono for a presentation to the US Food and Drugs Administration comparing the effectiveness of its Rebif treatment with that of Biogen's Avonex.
The study showed that MS patients taking Rebif were less likely to suffer recurrent attacks than those on Avonex. Biogen argued that the survey was flawed and gained a court order banning the publication of the data. Serono broke the injunction by putting the survey on the Internet.
Behind the legal arguments is a fierce battle for sales. Rebif accounts for almost a third of Serono's turnover, while Biogen's sales are much more heavily dependent on Avonex.
Serono hoped that its comparative study of the two treatments would allow Rebif to enter the US market before mid-2003.
The legal battle is unlikely to be resolved on Wednesday. Meanwhile, MS sufferers say they are concerned that commercial interests are being put before the interests of patients.
The markets already seem to have made their judgement about the case. In the last six months, Serono's share price has gone up by some 11 per cent while Biogen's has fallen almost 13 per cent.
swissinfo with agencies