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EC investigates J&J/Novartis over fentanyl

The European Commission has launched an antitrust investigation to assess if Johnson & Johnson and Novartis' generics division, Sandoz, hindered entry of generic versions of pain drug fentanyl into the Netherlands

The European Commission (EC) has launched an antitrust investigation to assess if Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Novartis' generics division, Sandoz, hindered entry of generic versions of pain drug fentanyl into the Netherlands.

The Commission is investigating contractual arrangements between the two companies to see if they breached EU antitrust rules. The EC specifically cited Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), which prohibits agreements and practices which may affect trade and prevent or restrict competition.

The pharmaceutical industry has been closely scrutinised by the Commission under its antitrust laws in recent years, with previous inquiries into the sector suggesting that drug companies may be paying to delay the market entry of generic medicines, according to the EC.

These include an inquiry published in July 2009 that claimed originator companies intervened in national procedures for the approval of generic medicines in a significant number of cases, which, on average, led to four months of delay for the generic medicine.

Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the Commission in charge of competition policy, said: "Pharmaceutical companies are already rewarded for their innovation efforts by the patents they are granted. Paying a competitor to stay out of the market is a restriction of competition that the Commission will not tolerate."

A spokesperson for J&J said that the commission had not found that the company had done anything wrong in the Netherlands and that it was only the beginning of an investigation.

A spokesperson for Sandoz said: "We can confirm we have received notification that the EU Commission has opened an investigation. As a matter of corporate policy, we cannot provide any further comment."

24th October 2011

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