*EU says will monitor patent settlement agreements
*Says asked for copies of settlements from companies
*Astra, Glaxo, Sanofi, Novartis, Roche, Boehringer contacted
*EU's Kroes: monitoring will provide possibility to act
(Adds Roche confirming it involved)
By Bate Felix
BRUSSELS, Jan 12 Patent settlements between drug
companies will undergo European Commission scrutiny over
concerns some may prevent consumers from obtaining lower-priced
The European Union's antitrust watchdog said it had asked
certain companies for copies of their patent settlements. The
requests covered deals between originator and generic
pharmaceutical companies from July 2008 to December 2009.
It did not identify the companies, but Britain's AstraZeneca
PLC (AZN.L) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), France's Sanofi-Aventis
(SASY.PA) and Novartis NOVN.VX and Roche ROG.VX of
Switzerland said the Commission had contacted them about drug
The move follows a critical Commission report into the
pharmaceutical sector last July that promised action to end
delays in bringing less expensive generic drugs to the market.
"We have received a request from the EU Commission, as part
of their ongoing monitoring, for information regarding
interactions with generic manufacturers. We will be providing
the Commission with all relevant information," said Claire
Brough, a spokeswoman for Glaxo.
Privately owned Boehringer Ingelheim, Germany's
second-largest drugmaker, also said it had received a
questionnaire from the Commission and was cooperating.
A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca said the firm remained
confident that all its agreements complied with the law and
benefited consumers and parties involved in the settlements.
Roche spokeswoman Martina Rupp said the Swiss group was
checking the request and was confident no antitrust laws had
"The Commission is in particular looking at patent
settlements where an originator company pays off a generic
competitor in return for delayed market entry of a generic
drug," the EU executive said in statement on Tuesday.
The move was launched following an inquiry into competition
in the pharmaceutical sector.
The EU executive vowed to pursue companies suspected of
anticompetitive acts after investigations revealed some
practices had cost healthcare providers about 3 billion euros
($4.4 billion) between 2007 and 2008.
The Commission has so far targeted a number of generic drugs
makers including Matrix Laboratories Ltd MAXL.BO, now a unit
of Mylan Inc (MYL.O); Niche Generics Ltd, part of Unichem
Laboratories Ltd; and Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries
Ltd TEVA.O in its investigations.
"The Commission's pharmaceutical sector inquiry points to
significant shortcomings in the pharmaceutical sector. Patent
settlements are an area of concern," EU Competition Commissioner
Neelie Kroes said in the statement.
"We need to monitor this type of agreement (patent
settlements) in order to better understand why, by whom and
under which conditions they are concluded. The monitoring will
also provide us with the possibility to act should this become
necessary," she added.
The Commission said it would analyse the agreements and
publish a report. If a specific settlement raised additional
questions, a more targeted request for information could follow
and the requests could be repeated annually.
(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler and Kate Kelland in
London and Frank Siebelt in Frankfurt, editing by Dale Hudson
and Mike Nesbit)