Bad Science -- or No Science?

Zonagen purchased the buccal-administration patent for $100,000 in 1994. But phentolamine tastes really bad, so the company mixed it with lactose and standard pharmaceutical binders and, in March, received approval from the patent office for "a rapidly dissolving tablet," which Zonagen calls the "Lowery patent."

But, because Zonagen appears to have protection for, as the patent states, an "improved formulation," what's stopping someone else from reformulating the company's reformulation?

Nothing, says Balbir Bhogal.
"Someone else could simply mix it with some other type of filler," Bhogal says, "and they wouldn't even need a patent to sell it."

Such blatant heresy eventually cost Bhogal his job at Zonagen. In 1995, Bhogal fell on the wrong side of Podolski's attempt to appropriate another company's research on a method of detecting breast cancer without performing a biopsy. The discovery was first made by Reproductive Biotechnologies Ltd., a prestigious biomedical institute in Bangalore, India, which found that women who develop breast cancer have higher levels of riboflavin carrier proteins in their bloodstreams.

According to Bhogal, Podolski wanted to enter into a research contract whereby Zonagen would produce the blood samples from former and current breast-cancer patients, and RBT, as the company was called, would test them for the presence of the proteins. But, Bhogal says, Podolski planned to tell RBT that its test results were flawed, then cancel the contract and file a patent application using the company's research.

Podolski disputes Bhogal's recollection of the RBT contract. He says Zonagen did file a patent application, but did so on behalf of RBT, with the understanding that Zonagen would license the technology if it panned out. But, Podolski says, the science was flawed, so Zonagen "abandoned all of that work."

"It was going to be assigned to us if we maintained the research and once we worked on it in house," Podolski says. "But we couldn't reproduce it, so we packed it all up and shipped it back. I have no idea whether they're pursuing it or not."

Podolski does agree that the RBT matter was the beginning of the end for Bhogal, who was told to start looking for another job when the deal fell apart. Among the people Bhogal contacted about employment was an old friend from India working at Schering-Plough in Union, New Jersey. In a letter to his friend, Bhogal mentioned that Zonagen's patent application for its adjuvant, ImmuMax, was rejected.

When Podolski caught wind of that, he accused Bhogal of violating a confidentiality agreement and fired him. Bhogal has since sued Zonagen and Podolski for breach of contract. But he has been unable to find work, and he, his wife and ten-year-old child have been surviving on savings and money borrowed from family.

"It's been very difficult," Bhogal says. "It is not an easy thing to explain when you are trying to find a job."

-- Brian Wallstin

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