Group wants investigation into Sanofi, Merck contracts

The nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has sent a letter to the FTC requesting an antitrust investigation into drugmakers that it alleges have offered significant discounts to doctors for providing patients with only that company's vaccines. CREW says it sent its letter after learning that Sanofi Pasteur and Merck require physician healthcare groups to enter into contracts prohibiting them from purchasing vaccines made by other companies. Doctors are effectively barred from offering alternative vaccines, "even when they are demonstrably more effective and their use would be in the patients' best interests," the group maintains.

To illustrate its point, the group points to Sanofi, which markets the meningitis vaccine Menactra. CREW says the company bars doctors from offering Novartis's vaccine, Menveo, even though some studies indicate Menveo may offer greater protection to teenagers. "This sort of anti-competitive conduct undermines the doctor-patient relationship and deprives consumers of the best medical treatment," the groups says in its letter. Furthermore, these contracts suppress competition, prevent new and potentially more effective vaccines from entering the market and stifle innovation in an industry that receives generous federal funding, it adds.

"Patients presume that doctors choose vaccines based on the patient's best interests. Now we learn that's not always true. In some cases, doctors are choosing vaccines based on the discounts offered by the drug manufacturer," CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan says.

Spokespeople for both companies tell MedPage Today the contracts are lawful. The "contracts that we enter into with various buying groups and group purchasing organizations offer real value to those who choose to buy our vaccines, but customers are certainly able to purchase competitive vaccines, should they so choose," Sanofi says.

"We work with our customers to negotiate contracts that help meet their needs; those negotiations are private and all individual contracts are confidential," Merck says in an an emailed statement to MedPage. It adds that it disagrees strongly with any implication that the contracts are unlawful.

- read the CREW release
- see the group's letter
- here's MedPage Today's coverage