Patents And Regulatory Exclusivities On Inhalers For Asthma And COPD, 1986-2020

Health Aff (Millwood). 2022 Jun;41(6):787-796. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01874. Epub 2022 May 17.


Inhalers are the mainstay of treatment for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These products face limited generic competition in the US and remain expensive. To better understand the strategies that brand-name inhaler manufacturers have employed to preserve their market dominance, we analyzed all patents and regulatory exclusivities granted to inhalers approved by the Food and Drug Administration between 1986 and 2020. Of the sixty-two inhalers approved, fifty-three were brand-name products, and these brand-name products had a median of sixteen years of protection from generic competition. Only one inhaler contained an ingredient with a new mechanism of action. More than half of all patents were on the inhaler devices, not the active ingredients or other aspects of these drug-device combinations. Manufacturers augmented periods of brand-name market exclusivity by moving active ingredients from one inhaler device into another ("device hops"). The median time from approval of an originator product to the last-to-expire patent or regulatory exclusivity of branded follow-ons was twenty-eight years (across device hops on fourteen originator products). Regulatory and patent reform is critical to ensure that the rewards bestowed on brand-name inhaler manufacturers better reflect the added clinical benefit of new products.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asthma* / drug therapy
  • Drugs, Generic
  • Humans
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / drug therapy
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Drugs, Generic