France slaps Sanofi with $53M fine for 'disparaging' Plavix generics

If you can't say something nice, don't say it at all. That was your mother's motto. Perhaps Sanofi ($SNY) should have listened to her. The drugmaker has been fined by the French Competition Authority for "disparaging" generic copies of its now-off-patent bloodthinner, Plavix.

Back in 2010, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' ($TEVA) French unit filed a complaint alleging that Sanofi sales reps spread criticism about Plavix copies. The branded drugmaker raised questions about the generic versions' quality and safety, "without any proven basis," the competition authority said in a statement. "[N]othing could demonstrate that Plavix generics were less safe than" the branded version," the agency said.

According to the competition authority, Sanofi reps urged doctors to specify that prescriptions be filled with branded Plavix rather than generics, Bloomberg reports. The company also lobbied pharmacists to choose Sanofi's own generic version, rather than competing generics, if they did fill scripts with copies rather than the brand.

The agency levied a fine of €40.6 million in the dispute, or about $52.8 million.

Sanofi says it didn't belittle generic Plavix and that it may appeal the decision. "Sanofi never challenged the bio-equivalence of Plavix generics," the company said (as quoted by Reuters). "Sanofi never specifically targeted the Teva Sante generic or other Plavix generic versions."

There was plenty at stake for Sanofi in its competition with Plavix copies. The blockbuster drug has delivered more than €2 billion euros annually since 2010, but in Western Europe, where generics first made their debut, sales have been dropping by the hundreds of millions. The drug lost exclusivity in the U.S. last year, eroding Sanofi's share of those sales; Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) marketed the drug in the States under a now-revised partnership.

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