Contact l Sitemap

home industries issues reasearch weblog press

Home  » Industries » Pharmaceuticals

EU: European Antitrust Regulators Raid Large Drug Makers


by STEPHEN CASTLE and JAMES KANTERNew York Times
January 17th, 2008

Antitrust regulators on Wednesday raided big European drug makers as part of an investigation into whether patents and lawsuit settlements are being manipulated to keep generic products off the market.

Inspectors from the European Commission seized information about intellectual property rights, litigation and settlements in patent disputes in a series of surprise visits to pharmaceutical companies. The commission would not identify the companies involved, but Glaxo, AstraZeneca, Wyeth, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Sanofi-Aventis and Pfizer said later that they had been contacted.

In a statement the commission, the administrative arm of the European Union, said the investigation was in response to indications that competition in the European market “may not be working well.”

“Fewer new pharmaceuticals are being brought to the market, and the entry of generic pharmaceuticals sometimes seems to be delayed,” the statement said. “If innovative products are not being produced, and cheaper generic alternatives to existing products are in some cases being delayed, then we need to find out why and, if necessary, take action.”

The inquiry will consider whether illegal barriers have been created by the use of patent rights, vexatious litigation o r other means.

The European competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, told a news conference that the number of new drugs reaching the market had dropped to an average of 28 a year in the 2000-4 period from 40 a year in 1995-99.

A Sanofi-Aventis spokesman, Geoffroy Bessaud, said the company had received a visit at its Paris headquarters and was cooperating with the investigation.

The commission has already conducted inquiries into financial services and the energy market, the latter resulting in legal action against some utilities.

David W. Hull, head of the European competition group at the law firm of Covington & Burling, said the regulators’ announcement represented a shift in emphasis to generic drugs.

“The focus on generics is not surprising,” Mr. Hull said, “as the entry of generics onto the market has been a major issue for the U.S. antitrust agencies in recent years, and it was only a matter of time before it arrived in Europe.”

Generic drugs have been used far less widely in countries like France than in the United States.

Some companies that produce brand pharmaceuticals for European use have fought to slow the introduction of generic drugs that could lower government health care costs.

That fight is part of a larger struggle. Drug companies have long been at odds with governments of countries with universal health systems, where the prices of patented medications are much lower than in more profitable markets like the United States. The companies say, for example, that European governments enforce restrictions on direct advertising to consumers and that public agencies often tell doctors and patients which drugs will be paid for by the state.

They respond to complaints, particularly those involving patent protection, by saying that patient safety is their first concern. Patenting new versions of older drugs improves care and assures patients that the medication is genuine, the companies say.

Some fierce disputes in Europe focus on next-generation medications made from biological materials. In those cases, drug companies argue that their manufacture is so complex that copying them is nearly impossible.

Generic-drug producers agree that new technologies require new rules on copying, but they accuse patent holders of seeking to impose additional testing to delay the output of generics and protect profit.





This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.