Italian prosecutors home in on Roche, Novartis execs in eye-drug collusion probe

Italian prosecutors have zeroed in on four executives at Roche ($RHHBY) and Novartis ($NVS) in their probe of potential fraud in the companies' eye-drug sales, Reuters reports, citing sources. The four executives weren't identified.

It's the latest development in a probe of alleged collusion between the two Swiss drugmakers to protect their eye drug Lucentis, which Roche developed and Novartis markets outside the U.S. Earlier this month, Italian antitrust regulators fined the two companies a total of €182.5 million, or about $250 million.

Prosecutors in Rome immediately opened a file on the case, saying they would look into charges of fraud and market manipulation. According to the antitrust regulators, the two companies worked together to prevent use of Roche's cancer drug Avastin, often prescribed off-label for wet age-related macular degeneration. That off-label use is far cheaper than Lucentis, a drug that's similar to Avastin but developed and formulated for use in the eye.

Both Roche and Novartis denied the Italian Competition Authority's accusations and said they would appeal the antitrust decision.

Roche said Friday that it hadn't been informed by prosecutors that any of its managers were under investigation, Reuters reports. "Roche reiterates that it has acted correctly and confirms its confidence in the fact that this will be fully recognised," the company said in a statement given to the news service. Novartis did not comment.

- read the Reuters news

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