E.U. raids AZ offices in another antitrust push

The European Commission has stepped up its antitrust probe with new raids on drugmakers suspected of delaying generic competition for a specific drug. That drug appears to be Nexium, the heartburn remedy; AstraZeneca ($AZN) confirmed that antitrust types visited several of its European facilities this week seeking information mostly about that top-selling product.

It's just the latest set of raids by antitrust investigators, who've been looking into the pharmaceuticals business for several years. The European Commission has been eyeing deals between branded drugmakers and generics firms, alleging that some of those arrangements are anticompetitive and keep copycat meds off the market unnaturally long.

The new push involves "a limited number" of drug companies, E.U. officials said, that may have "acted individually or jointly" to delay copycat versions of "a particular medicine." According to Bloomberg, AstraZeneca posted $912 million in Nexium sales in western Europe during the first nine months of this year. Generic versions will soon be popping up all over the region.

"We can confirm we are subject of inspections by certain competition authorities which relate to alleged practices regarding esomeprazole [Nexium] in Europe," an AstraZeneca spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. "AstraZeneca takes compliance with all laws seriously and has a fundamental commitment to doing business in an ethical and proper manner."

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