BRUSSELS European Union regulators are investigating a number of drugmakers it suspects of preventing cheaper generic medicines reaching the market, in addition to four ongoing cases, the EU's competition chief said on Tuesday.
Antitrust regulators on both sides of the Atlantic oppose "pay-for-delay" deals where brand-name companies pay manufacturers of generic rivals to keep their medicines off the market. It can mean consumers ultimately paying more.
The European Commission, which acts as competition regulator in the 27-member EU, says such methods violate its rules against restrictive business practices and to prevent companies abusing their market power against competitors.
The EU executive, which has formally accused more than a dozen drugmakers over such practices as part of its four ongoing investigations, has identified more cases, Joaquin Almunia, the commission in charge, said.
"We have still some others in the pipeline," Almunia told the Reuters Euro Zone Summit.
"On the one hand, we need to create a framework to protect those who innovate and those who are owners of patents. Given the life of patents is not (unlimited), once the drug is transformed into generics, all citizens should have the right to benefit from lower prices," he said.
He did not identify the companies involved in the new cases.
Almunia said he was on the way to wrapping up investigations into French drugmaker Servier and Denmark's Lundbeck (LUN.CO).
"We are now well advanced, in particular in two cases, Servier and Lundbeck. In the coming months, hearings of these two cases will take place. After the hearings, we will advance towards the end of these antitrust investigations," he said.
Lundbeck has denied any anti-competitive behavior and maintains it has acted within EU rules. Servier too says it has not broken European regulations.
Lundbeck is scheduled to defend its case before the Commission and national competition regulators at a closed-door hearing on March 14-15.
The Commission launched its fight against pay-for-delay deals after a high-profile inquiry into the sector in 2009 found consumers were paying 20 percent more for their medicine because of such agreements.
Companies found in breach of EU antitrust rules can be fined of up to 10 percent of their global revenues.
(For other news from Reuters Euro Zone summit, click here)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Rex Merrifield/Jeremy Gaunt)