March 14, 2014 / 2:50 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-Italian prosecutors open probe against Roche, Novartis

(Adds Roche statement)

ROME, March 14 (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Rome have opened an investigation into four executives at Swiss drugmakers Roche and Novartis on suspicion of fraud and manipulation of the pharmaceutical market, judicial sources said on Friday.

The sources did not name the managers.

Earlier this month, Italy’s antitrust authority said Roche and Novartis colluded to try to stop cancer drug Avastin from being used to treat a serious eye disease and fined the companies 182.5 million euros ($254.2 million).

Italy’s regulator accused the two Basel-based firms of striking an alliance to prevent distribution of Roche’s Avastin as a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in favour of the more expensive drug Lucentis made by Novartis.

A Novartis spokesman had no immediate comment on Friday.

Roche issued a statement saying it had not been informed by prosecutors that any of its managers were under investigation.

“Roche reiterates that it has acted correctly and confirms its confidence in the fact that this will be fully recognised,” it said.

It also confirmed that it would appeal against the anti-trust ruling to an administrative court, as it said when the ruling was issued.

Novartis has also strongly denied the regulatory decision and pledged to appeal. ($1 = 0.7180 euros) (Reporting by Mario Sarzanini in Rome and Caroline Copely in Zurich; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Erica Billingham and Sophie Walker)

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