French competition watchdog slaps Merck, Reckitt for talking down Subutex generics

European antitrust watchdogs have struck again. As Reuters reports, France's competition authority has fined Merck's ($MRK) Schering-Plough unit €15.3 million ($21 million) for a "smear campaign" against generic competitors to Subutex, a drug for opioid addiction.

Fines also went out to Merck itself (€414,000) and British supplier Reckitt Benckiser (€318,000) for their role in fighting off the Subutex generic. The Actavis ($ACT) unit that sold the copycat version, Arrow Generiques, had filed a complaint against Schering, citing the company's communications with pharmacists.

According to French officials, Schering reps not only criticized Arrow's version during sales calls but also offered discounts to pharmacists to persuade them to use the branded version instead. All of this allegedly took place in 2005; Merck bought Schering in 2009. The U.S.-based drugmaker told Reuters it's reviewing the French decision and considering its next steps.

It's just the latest move against drugmakers in Europe, where antitrust officials have been investigating the pharma industry for several years. The EU competition authority has focused on so-called "pay-for-delay" deals, under which branded drugmakers and generics companies settle patent fights with cash payments. Most recently, the agency fined Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Novartis ($NVS) for their role in delaying a generic version of the painkiller fentanyl.

The French Competition Authority, on the other hand, has zeroed in on drugmakers' criticism of their generic competition. In May, the agency slapped Sanofi ($SNY) with a €40.6 million fine for disparaging a generic version of its blockbuster blood thinner, Plavix.

- read the Reuters news

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