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MSD probed by UK for blocking Remicade biosimilars

Pharma giant’s discount scheme for infliximab labelled ‘anti-competitive’

Merck & CoThe UK government says Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) broke competition laws by lowering the price of its Remicade drug as biosimilar rivals came to market.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued a ‘statement of objections’ against the pharma company - known as Merck & Co in North America - saying that the discount scheme for Remicade (infliximab) was anti-competitive and may have broken UK law.

The CMA says the findings of its investigation, which dates back to the end of 2015 are provisional and "no conclusion should be drawn that there has in fact been any breach of competition law", but had decided to make the statement after three rounds of information gathering and reviews in June and November 2016, and March this year.

The agency does say that it proposes to find MSD and parent company Merck & Co "jointly and severally liable" for the alleged infringement.

In a statement MSD said it was cooperating with the investigation but is "confident that the proceedings will show that MSD has complied with competition law at all times".

Remicade - a TNF inhibitor used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, ankylosing spondylitis and arthritis psoriasis - has been a massive earner for Merck and marketing partner Johnson & Johnson (J&J), which sells it in markets outside Europe.

Global sales reached $8.5bn in 2014 before the onset of biosimilar competition from Hospira (Pfizer) and Celltrion, with Merck recording $2.4bn of that total. By the end of the following year Merck's sales had declined to $1.8bn, and have continued to slide reaching a little under $1.3bn last year.

MSD insists that the discounts in question meant that infliximab "was competitively priced and offered savings to the UK National Health Service without hindering competition", while declining to comment further.

The action is the latest in a series launched by the CMA into the pharma industry. Last year it fined Pfizer £84m for conspiring with Flynn Pharma to raise the price of epilepsy drug phenytoin, and has since launched an investigation into the pricing of Actavis' hydrocortisone tablets.

Article by
Phil Taylor

25th May 2017

From: Sales

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