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European Union fines drug companies for delaying generics

BRUSSELS — Europe’s top antitrust enforcer continued a campaign on both sides of the Atlantic to crack down on drug company efforts to keep low-cost generic versions of their medicines off the market, fining a Danish pharmaceutical and a number of generic producers a total of $195 million Wednesday.

The European Commission said that Lundbeck of Denmark colluded with companies including Ranbaxy of India and Merck of Germany in 2002 and 2003 to delay market entry of a less-expensive generic version of Lundbeck’s blockbuster antidepressant called citalopram.

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Lundbeck, fined $124 million, the highest amount, went as far as destroying significant quantities of the less expensive version of the drug, according to Joaquín Almunia, the competition commissioner, whose office enforces antitrust laws on behalf of the 27-nation European Union.

The commission can fine companies up to 10 percent of their most recent annual worldwide sales. The fine against Lundbeck amounts to about 4.6 percent of its 2012 sales.

“All this occurred at the expense of patients who were deprived of access to cheaper medicines,” Almunia said at a news conference Wednesday. “It also harmed our public health systems, who for a longer period had to artificially bear the costs of an expensive medicine and one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants.”

The case mirrors a decision Monday by the US Supreme Court that empowered the Federal Trade Commission to sue drug makers that engage in so-called pay-for-delay tactics. The European case also focused on efforts by a major pharmaceutical company to slow or block the availability of cheaper versions of medicines.

Lundbeck said it had done nothing wrong and would appeal the decision.

Peter Kaplan, a spokesman for the FTC, had no comment on Almunia’s decision Wednesday. But he indicated that officials on both sides of the Atlantic had been coordinating on the issue of drug pricing.

“FTC staffers have had productive policy discussions with their counterparts in the EU on the pay-for-delay issue, which is a longstanding enforcement priority at the FTC,” Kaplan said. “These discussions have benefited both agencies.”

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