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Allergan transfers drug patent to Native American tribe

Allergan struck a unique deal to protect a drug patent. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

Drug maker Allergan has forged a deal to save the patent protection for one of its drugs by transferring the patents to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe in New York, a sovereign entity that is immune from patent reviews.

The numbers: Allergan will give the tribe its patents for Restasis — an eye care drug with $1.5 billion of worldwide sales last year — and pay the tribe $13.75 million upfront and $15 million annually in royalties.

Why it matters: Allergan made it clear the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe approached the company. But the deal raises two issues: the extent pharmaceutical companies are willing to go to save lucrative patents of their brand-name drugs; and the poor financial shape of America's native tribes that makes these kinds of deals attractive.