July 4, 2007 / 11:49 AM / in 11 years

AstraZeneca delays new drug distribution scheme

LONDON (Reuters) - AstraZeneca (AZN.L) has decided to delay implementation of a new exclusive distribution system for its medicines in Britain until early 2008 to ensure the system is robust, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The Anglo-Swedish group -- which appointed UniChem, the wholesaling division of Alliance Boots AB.L, and Celesio AG’s CLSGn.DE AAH Pharmaceuticals as distribution partners in April -- had initially intended to have the scheme in place by late summer.

    The new system replaces the traditional one of supplying products indirectly through multiple wholesalers and follows a similar move by Pfizer Inc. (PFE.N), which started selling its products exclusively through UniChem in March.

    Such deals are controversial and opposed by independent wholesalers, who argue they stifle competition. The consumer affairs watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading, said in April it would investigate the market for distributing medicines in the wake of the Pfizer move.

    Pfizer says it needs the new scheme to ensure secure supplies and stamp out counterfeits. But critics say the real aim is to fight parallel trade -- the legal practice in Europe of importing medicines for resale into places like Britain from countries in southern Europe where prices are lower.

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