EU enforcers accuse J&J, Novartis of delaying fentanyl generic

Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Novartis ($NVS) are the latest pharma companies to feel the ire of EU antitrust regulators. European Commission officials have accused the two drugmakers of delaying a generic version of the painkiller fentanyl--and violating competition laws in the process.

The "statement of objections" issued to J&J and Novartis takes issue with a co-promotion agreement between J&J's Janssen-Cilag unit and Novartis' generics business Sandoz. The generics unit agreed to hold off on launching its version of the painkiller in the Netherlands, and Janssen agreed to pay Sandoz monthly until the generic appeared, the statement alleges.

It's the latest "pay-to-delay" agreement to be challenged by European watchdogs. The antitrust squad moved against Merck KGaA, Lundbeck and Servier last year, and it has plenty of other companies under investigation.

The two companies have the opportunity to answer the charges, and can request a hearing. If the commission decides its competition rules were violated, the fines can be hefty: Up to 10% of the companies' annual sales. None of the other antitrust cases in pharma have made it to that point yet.

- get the EC statement
- read the Reuters story