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Europe’s top competition regulator is issuing formal charges against French pharmaceutical group Servier and the Danish drugmaker Lundbeck, in its latest attempt to ease market entry for cheaper generic medicines.
The objections against Lundbeck, which were served on Wednesday, relate to the group reaching deals with four generic makers allegedly to stop them bringing out versions of citalopram, its bestselling blockbuster antidepressant.
Servier, a private French group that has been beset recently with regulatory troubles, will be served with charges relating to its blood pressure medicine perindopril in coming days.
Joaquín Almunia, the EU competition commissioner, announced the actions, saying there were “significant competition problems” in the pharmaceutical industry. “Private companies can’t be allowed to free-ride our welfare states and health insurance systems,” he said.
The charges against Servier and Lundbeck are the first issued by the European Commission since it launched a major review of the pharmaceutical industry in 2009, which identified key concerns about so-called “pay-to-delay” agreements.
An update to the review of the sector found that about 11 per cent of the 120 patent settlements last year were “problematic”, a lower proportion than the 20 per cent initially identified in the original inquiry.
The number of settlements rose fivefold last year, a fact the commission cited as demonstrating that scrutiny was not stopping out-of-court deals to end litigation.
The commission said Lundbeck ensured generic versions of its product were not released for a period of up to two years through direct payments and favourable commercial agreements. Lundbeck said it “vigorously opposes any allegation of wrongdoing” and said the commission’s accusations were “groundless”.
Investigators concluded that Servier entered similar uncompetitive agreements with generic drugmakers, which could raise prices for health services. The charges are also likely to accuse Servier of abusing its dominant position, according to a commission statement.
Servier said it had yet to receive the statement of objections and stressed that its issuance does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The UK government sued Servier last year for £220m, alleging that the group misused its market clout between July 2001 and July 2007 to prevent the generic drug perindopril from reaching the market, forcing it to pay higher prices. Servier is contesting the case.
Servier is already facing regulatory scrutiny and contesting claims over the side-effects caused by its controversial diabetic drug Mediator, which has been withdrawn. The French drugmaker is currently on trial for allegedly misleading authorities over Mediator, which officials suspect may be linked to hundreds of deaths.