* Branded, generic drug companies expected to oppose bill
* Similar measures failed in previous Congress
* Supreme Court has agreed to hear 'pay for delay' case
WASHINGTON, Feb 5 Key Democratic and Republican
senators reintroduced legislation on Tuesday that would make it
illegal for brand-name pharmaceutical companies to pay generic
drug makers to keep their cheaper medicines off the market.
Such deals, in which big drug companies resolve patent
litigation with potentially infringing generic firms by reaching
a settlement that delays a generic version of a drug in exchange
for a payment, have angered U.S. and European antitrust
enforcers for years.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat
from Minnesota and the new chair of the Senate Judiciary
Committee's antitrust panel, and by Senator Chuck Grassley, a
Republican from Iowa.
"I have long supported efforts to crack down on this
behavior and the recent rise in pay-for-delay agreements
underscores the need for legislation to help make sure people
have access to the drugs they need at a price they can afford,"
Klobuchar said in a statement.
Similar bills, including one in 2010, have failed in part
because of opposition from the drug industry, both branded and
generic. It was not immediately known if a companion bill would
be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Opponents of the measure are already pressing for meetings
with the two lawmakers and are confident that it will go
nowhere, said Ralph Neas, chief executive of the Generic
Pharmaceutical Association trade group.
"I do believe that a majority of Congress opposes the bill,"
said Neas, who said the settlements were good for consumers. "I
know that (Federal Trade Commission Chairman) Jon (Leibowitz)
has this catchy phrase 'pay for delay' but it's wrong. Patent
The FTC said in January that brand name drug firms reached
agreements with generic manufacturers 40 times in the latest
fiscal year, delaying the arrival of cheaper drugs to
pharmacists' shelves. That was up from 28 the previous year and
the highest since the FTC started tracking them.
The commission has had mixed success in fighting the deals
in court, but the issue could be coming to a head.
Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an
appeal by the FTC, which had challenged annual payments of $31
million to $42 million by then-owner Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc
to stop generic versions of AndroGel, a treatment for the
underproduction of testosterone, until 2015. AndroGel is now a
product of AbbVie.
In Brussels in late January, EU antitrust regulators stepped
up their fight against drug companies suspected of blocking
cheap generic medicines, charging Johnson & Johnson and
Novartis over the painkiller fentanyl.
The European antitrust watchdog said it believed the two had
agreed on a "pay-for-delay" deal on generic versions of the
drug, hurting Dutch consumers and healthcare providers.