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OFT mulling Pfizer distribution system

Wholesalers claim that exclusive deal is an attempt to control pharmaceutical supply chain

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is considering whether to investigate further Pfizer's new UK pharmaceutical distribution system, which the world's biggest firm announced at the tail end of September.

Under the terms of the exclusive arrangement, distribution of Pfizer medicines to pharmacists and dispensing doctors will be restricted to a single wholesaler, UniChem, the distribution unit of Alliance-Boots.

The move has created uproar among other pharma wholesalers and independent chemists who argue that the deal is an attempt to control the pharmaceutical supply chain and poses a threat to patient welfare.

ìThe OFT has received a number of complaints expressing concern about Pfizer's decision to distribute its products directly to customers using Alliance-Boots from March next year,î said an OFT spokesman. ìWe are considering whether Pfizer's action raises competition concerns and if this is something which the OFT should investigate further.î

Pfizer has defended the scheme, saying that the new system is necessary to prevent counterfeit medicines entering the distribution chain and says it is confident that the scheme complies with both UK and European law.

ìThe distribution system is complex and fragmented and provides a vehicle for counterfeit medicines to enter the UK,î said a Pfizer spokesman.

However, the wholesalers' trade body, the British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers (BAPW) has voted to explore the possibility of mounting a legal challenge, while the National Pharmacy Association is deciding whether to lodge a formal complaint with the OFT.

BAPW chairman, Ian Brownlee, said that a single-supplier system would not be able to ensure that pharmaceutical products were in the dispensary when they were needed.

ìProfit is being put before patient safety with a breathtaking arrogance,î he commented to The Times.

Pfizer has countered arguments that it is compromising patient safety by saying that the new system will mean pharmacists will be able to ensure they are receiving genuine Pfizer products.

In a letter to The Times, Pfizer UK managing director, Dr Oliver Brandicourt, asserted that 'as a manufacturer of medicines, Pfizer is in a better position than any wholesaler to ensure the right supply at all times of our prescription medicines and to give customers confidence that our medicines will always be available'.

Three batches of counterfeit versions of Pfizer's top-selling drug, the cholesterol lowerer, Lipitor, have managed to enter the UK pharmaceutical distribution chain in the last 12 months.

30th September 2008

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