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Attorneys of the Year: Dorothy Whelan

Dorothy Whelan took on Goliath and won.

The longtime attorney for Fish & Richardson in Minneapolis persuaded the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) last year to invalidate three patents covering top-selling autoimmune biologic drug Humira.

Used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and psoriasis, Humira made $16 billion for North Chicago-based AbbVie Biotechnology Ltd. in 2016. Representing biosimilar therapeutics maker Coherus Biosciences of Redwood City, California, Whelan and her team convinced the PTAB to revisit previous challenges to the Humira patents.

Whelan argued that the patents for Humira’s rheumatoid arthritis therapies were “a routine optimization” of the previously outlined therapy, “achievable through the use of standard clinical trial procedures.” The PTAB agreed, paving the way for smaller biosimilar drugmakers to break into the highly competitive market.

Whelan has been involved in more than over 100 such cases, including 30 life sciences patent challenges for patent owners and challengers in 2017.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Yale University and a master’s in polymers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A self-described “disgruntled graduate student” who hated working in a laboratory, she landed a job in 1984 at Fish & Richardson’s Boston office, where a friend said he frequently worked with inventors. Whelan started law school at Boston College later that year.

“They taught me, trained me,” Whelan said of the firm. “They were great, and I just stayed.”

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