December 2, 2014 / 7:05 PM / 5 years ago

Novartis and Roche suffer setback in Italian collusion case

The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is seen at its headquarters in Basel October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis said a regional court in Italy had upheld a decision by Italian antitrust authorities which found Novartis and Roche colluded in anti-competitive practices.

Novartis and Roche, which deny wrongdoing, said on Tuesday they had so far only been verbally informed of the regional administrative tribunal of Lazio’s decision and would appeal the verdict.

The rejection of their appeal is a setback for the two Swiss drugmakers which also face demands for more than a billion euros in damages from the Italian health ministry over the alleged collusion.

In March, the Italian Competition Authority fined Novartis and Roche 182.5 million euros ($226 million) for colluding to try to impose Novartis’ Lucentis as a treatment for a serious eye disease instead of Roche’s cheaper Avastin.

In May, the Italian health ministry said it would seek 1.2 billion euros in damages from the companies.

“Novartis firmly rejects the accusations of anti-competitive practices and any allegations of anti-competitive behavior are unfounded and without merit. We will take all necessary steps to appeal this decision,” the company said on Tuesday.

Roche also said it strongly disagreed with the court’s decision. “We reiterate that the charges are unfounded and will appeal the verdict. There was no collusion with Novartis,” it said.

Roche spokeswoman Claudia Schmitt told Reuters the company had not been contacted again by Italy’s health ministry after receiving a letter at the end of May announcing the ministry’s intention to seek damages.

Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Pravin Char

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