Pharma giants Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Novartis ($NVS) are being probed by EU antitrust regulators over concerns that they contractually arranged to delay the entry of a generic version of painkiller Fentanyl in the Netherlands.
"I regard this sector as a priority in terms of enforcement of competition rules given its importance for consumers and for governments' finances," said Joaquín Almunia, vice president of the Commission in charge of competition policy, in a statement. "Pharmaceutical companies are already rewarded for their innovation efforts by the patents they are granted. Paying a competitor to stay out of the market is a restriction of competition that the Commission will not tolerate."
J&J did not respond immediately to Reuters' request for comment. "We don't comment on ongoing procedures," a Novartis spokesperson told the news organization.
Pharma has been a target since an EU report showed the number of new drugs reaching the market each year had dropped by more than a third since 2000. A number of tactics have been used to delay generic entry, including the filing multiple patent applications for the same medicine. One of the most extreme examples uncovered showed 1,300 separate filings were made for one drug across the EU, as NineMSN notes.