French pharma company Servier has been formally charged by the European Commission of blocking the entry of generic versions of its cardiovascular medicine Coversyl/Aceon (perindopril) in collusion with four generic drugmakers.
The "statement of objections" follows swiftly after similar charges were laid against Lundbeck and eight generics firms for delaying the launch of cut-price versions of its Cipramil (citalopram) antidepressant.
In this latest action, the EC is claiming that patent settlement agreements between Servier and Teva, Matrix (now Mylan), Niche/Unichem, Krka and Lupin were specifically designed to delay the entry of generics of perindopril "in violation of EU antitrust rules".
The Commission is also claiming that privately-held Servier acquired "scarce competing technologies" to block the production of generic perindopril.
"These practices could have aimed at preserving Servier's position with regard to perindopril, which was about to reach the end of its patent protection," said the EC in a statement.
Servier has been under the spotlight for the alleged pay-for-delay deals since 2009, when a formal investigation was first announced.
Meanwhile, in addition to Lundbeck, other active investigations are focusing on Johnson & Johnson's pain drug Duragesic (fentanyl) and Cephalon's narcolepsy treatment Provigil (modafinil). Both these cases also cite Teva. Another investigation involving AstraZeneca and Nycomed was dropped in March.
The anticompetition investigations were launched after unannounced inspections at pharmaceutical companies in November 2008.
If the Commission can prove wrongdoing on the behalf of the pharma companies they can be liable to a fine equivalent to up to 10 per cent of annual worldwide turnover.
Servier has said it has not yet received a copy of the complaint from the EC but was confident it had not breached EU antitrust rules.
A related investigation into the French pharma company, which suggested Servier has provided "misleading and incorrect information" in the perindopril probe, was dropped earlier this year after the Commission concluded it would be too time-consuming and burdensome to investigate the matter.
Financial regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have been scrutinising agreements between branded and generic drugmakers, with a federal appeals court in the US earlier this month siding with the Federal Trade Commission's position that the deals are anticompetitive.