* EU suspects strategy to delay generic versions of
* Probe part of ongoing drive against delays to generic
* Investigation covers fentanyl patches sold in Netherlands
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Oct 21 EU antitrust regulators are
investigating agreements between Johnson & Johnson and
Novartis over concerns they may have delayed the
entry of a generic version of a powerful painkiller on to the
The European Commission said in a statement that if the
contractual agreements were aimed at or had the effect of
blocking the generic drug from the market, they would breach EU
The probe into the sale of fentanyl patches is the latest
action by the European Union's executive arm against suspected
collusion to block the sale of cheaper generic medicines.
"Pharmaceutical companies are already rewarded for their
innovation efforts by the patents they are granted. Paying a
competitor to stay out of the market is a restriction of
competition that the Commission will not tolerate," said EU
Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.
Stefan Gijssels, a spokesman for Janssen, the European arm
of U.S.-based J&J, said it was cooperating fully with the
authorities in their investigation.
"The investigation focuses on contractual arrangements with
Hexal/Sandoz concerning fentanyl patches in the Netherlands in
the period 2005-2006," he added.
A spokesman for Swiss-based Novartis, whose Sandoz division
is a major player in the global generics market, said: "We don't
comment on ongoing procedures." Sandoz bought Hexal in 2005.
The Commission produced a damning report on the
pharmaceuticals sector in 2009, which found delays in generic
medicines reaching the market were costing European consumers
billions of euros.
A year ago it said it planned to review drug patent
settlements -- and AstraZeneca was raided in December by
antitrust regulators seeking evidence about steps it had taken
to protect the $5 billion-a-year heartburn and stomach ulcer
drug Nexium from generic competition.
It has also opened antitrust investigations against French
drugmaker Servier, Denmark's Lundbeck and U.S.-based
U.S. antitrust regulators have also been looking critically
at so-called "pay-for-delay" settlement deals and other tactics
used to delay generics.
"I regard this sector as a priority in terms of enforcement
of competition rules given its importance for consumers and for
governments' finances," said Almunia.