Pfizer, Viatris and more must face 'overarching conspiracy' claims in generic price-fixing suit

Pfizer and several other drugmakers must face an antitrust lawsuit alleging they colluded to manipulate the prices of dozens of drugs for skin conditions.

Tuesday, Pennsylvania federal judge Cynthia Rufe denied almost all motions by the companies—and some of their former executives—to dismiss the price-fixing allegations.

Pfizer, Viatris, Bausch Health, Sun Pharma, Amneal and more together face price-fixing allegations brought by almost all U.S. states and other healthcare stakeholders.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2016, first centered on heart rhythm drug digoxin and skin infection antibiotic doxycycline. It’s since grown to incorporate allegations around about 80 products.

The plaintiffs allege that the companies used trade shows, industry dinners, golf outings and other events to collude and carve out each manufacturer’s “fair share” of the market for topical drugs. The practices suppressed competition and led to artificially high prices, the plaintiffs have argued.

In denying the defendants' motion to dismiss the “overarching conspiracy” claims, Rufe said the court “considers plausibility, not probability” of the potential price-fixing agreements.

In an attempt to steer clear from being implicated in a broader industrywide scheme, some companies such as Amneal and Lannett argued their liability should be limited because they only sell one product named in the litigation. But in allowing the “overarching conspiracy” claim to move forward, Rufe said it would be “improper” to separate the allegations. 

Instead, the case should be judged on the whole because the plaintiffs contend that the companies held a shared code of conduct, Rufe said. 

In Pfizer’s case, the Big Pharma was dragged into the suit in 2019 because of alleged conduct by its former authorized generic subsidiary Greenstone, which was combined with Mylan in 2020 to form Viatris.

Pfizer tried to argue that it should be excluded because Greenstone was at that time a subsidiary. But the judge dismissed that request, giving some credence to the plaintiffs’ argument that Pfizer might be liable because Greenstone acted at the direction of its parent company.

Rufe also rejected the defendants’ argument that the lawsuit, renewed in 2020, came too long after the alleged price-fixing conduct. The judge ruled that it’s too early to decide what people “knew or should have known at a particular time,” and therefore that matter is “more appropriate for resolution at a later stage of the proceedings.”

Last year, Rufe handed the companies a win when she denied the states’ request to be entitled to any potential illegal profits that the companies might be forced to forfeit. But she allowed the states access to potential injunctive relief.

The judge previously also removed drug distributors, including AmerisourceBergen, from the list of defendants.