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Celgene to Widow Who Discovered Thalomid: Go Take a Running Jump

Celgene thanked the woman who had the idea to use thalidomide as a treatment for multiple myeloma in its annual report, but says she isn't owed a dime for discovering the $2.2 billion-a-year treatment.

Beth Jacobson watched her husband die of multiple myeloma, but before he passed they tried using thalidomide because Jacobson pointed out to her doctor that it was successful in childhood leukemia, which is similar. It failed her husband, Dr. Ira Wolmer, but the drug eventually proved effective and was marketed by Celgene as Thalomid.

The complaint may lack legal merit, according to Forbes, but its allegations read like a catalog of bad faith and meanspiritedness. Here's the timeline:

Wolmer's doctor published an article in NEJM in 1999 describing their success with thalidomide. The article was dedicated to Jacobson's late husband.

Celgene's annual report of 1999 cited the trial as a "seminal event" and submitted an NDA to the FDA based on the data.

In 2000, Celgene CEO John Jackson ate lunch with Jacobson in New York to thank her for the discovery, the complaint says. He later suggested she take a seat on the board at Celgene (Jacobson was an attorney and general counsel at another public company).

Celgene's 2001 annual report said:

Beth worked tirelessly to find new therapies for her husband, who was dying of multiple myeloma. Her research led to request that he be treated with THALOMID. This was an important first step in identifying THALOMID's potential as a multiple myeloma therapy.
In 2005, Jackson retired and was replaced by Dr. Sol Barer. Barer had lunch with her in 2007 and said he would continue Jackson's efforts to push forward Jacobson's nomination for a seat on the board, the complaint alleges.

But it didn't happen. Barer ignored her phonecalls and messages through 2007 and 2008.

In February 2009, Barer's assistant emailed her saying: "Celgene was not interested in a telephone call or meeting with her."

Merits aside, how dumb is Celgene? Jacobson hands the company a blockbuster drug over the corpse of her husband, and the company responds by telling the widow to go take a running jump. Looks like Celgene's PR folks and its general counsel were asleep at the wheel -- a rare two-fer of incompetence.

A quiet and reasonable settlement, perhaps featuring a donation to charity, are in order.