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EU fines drug firms over delay

AMSTERDAM — The European Commission has fined pharmaceuticals giants Johnson & Johnson and Novartis a combined $22 million for colluding to delay the entrance of a cheap generic form of a pain killer to the Dutch market.

In a statement, the commission’s antitrust chief, Joaquin Almunia, said the two companies ‘‘shockingly deprived patients in the Netherlands, including people suffering from cancer, from access to a cheaper version of this medicine.’’

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The commission found that after Johnson & Johnson’s patent on a patch containing the drug Fentanyl expired in 2005, it paid Novartis to delay launching a generic version.

The delay lasted 17 months, and was more profitable for both companies than competing honestly would have been.

J&J’s fine was $14.7 million, and Novartis’s was $7.6 million.

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