EU authorities fine Boehringer, others for operating drug-ingredient 'cartel'

Five pharmaceutical companies, including the global player Boehringer Ingelheim, have landed in hot water for running a "cartel" to dominate the market for a specific drug ingredient in Europe.

The European Commission (EC) is fining Alkaloids of Australia, Alkaloids Corporation, Boehringer, Linnea and Transo-Pharm a total of 13.4 million euros ($14.2 million) to settle claims that the companies agreed to fix prices and allocate business on the pharmaceutical component N-Butylbromide Scopolamine/ Hyoscine (SNBB), which is used to make the decades-old abdominal antispasmodic Buscopan and its generics.

Boehringer received the largest fine by far, settling with the EC for 10.4 million euros.

A spokesperson for Boehringer said the company "accepts the settlement decision and remains committed to fair competition, integrity, and compliance."

"We have a zero-tolerance policy for any illegal or illicit business practices and are dedicated to always doing the right thing," the spokesperson added.

Notably, C2 Pharma—which prides itself on tackling human rights, labor, the environment and corruption—has dodged all fines for blowing the whistle on the cartel to the EC.

All six companies “admitted their involvement in the cartel and agreed to settle the case,” the European Commission said in a press release.

The companies were accused of conspiring to fix the minimum sales price of SNBB, allocating quotas and exchanging “commercially sensitive” information, the EC said. The behavior ran from late 2005 to Sept. 17, 2019, according to authorities.

Notably, Boehringer stopped its participation in the cartel at the end of 2014, with whistleblower C2 Pharma calling it quits in February of 2016.

The EC said this is the first time it’s sanctioned a pharmaceutical cartel over an active pharmaceutical ingredient. The agency worked in tandem with Swiss and Australian competition authorities to level the charges.

A seventh company, Alchem, is also being investigated but decided not to settle. Proceedings against that company will continue in tandem with Europe’s cartel procedure, the EC said.