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EU regulators team up with U.S. and UK on pharmaceutical mergers

FILE PHOTO: European Commission vice-president and digital commissioner Margrethe Vestager gestures as she speaks during a news conference on the EU Roaming Regulation, in Brussels, Belgium February 24, 2021. Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU antitrust enforcers have teamed up with their U.S. and British counterparts to share expertise on how to examine mergers in the pharmaceutical industry amid concerns such deals could push up prices or hold back innovation.

The COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine supply bottlenecks have spurred regulatory interest in the pharmaceutical industry which has seen a wave of consolidation in recent years.

The European Commission said the working group, which was launched on Tuesday, included the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Canadian Competition Bureau, Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The group would “take stock of the lessons learned in recent years and explore new ways to foster vibrant competition to the benefit of citizens”, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The EU competition enforcer said greater scrutiny of pharmaceutical deals was needed to single out those that might lead to higher drug prices, lower innovation or anti-competitive conduct.

“Given the high volume of pharmaceutical mergers in recent years, amid skyrocketing drug prices and ongoing concerns about anti-competitive conduct in the industry, it is imperative that we rethink our approach toward pharmaceutical merger review,” FTC Acting Chair Rebecca Slaughter said in a statement.

High and rising U.S. prescription drug prices, even for older medicines like insulin and epinephrine, have been a focus of concern for both U.S. political parties. Both former President Donald Trump, in his 2016 campaign, and President Joe Biden, in his 2020 campaign, pledged to reduce drug costs.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter

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