[Ip-health] New York Times: Italy Seeks $1.6 Billion in Damages From Roche and Novartis

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri May 30 10:10:13 PDT 2014

<http://www.nytimes.com/pages/business/international/index.html>Italy Seeks
$1.6 Billion in Damages From Roche and Novartis


PARIS — The Italian government is seeking $1.6 billion in damages from two
of the world’s biggest drug companies — Novartis and Roche — for losses
that it says the national health service incurred from the companies’
efforts to restrict competition in ophthalmic drugs.

The damage claim, for 1.2 billion euros, was announced on the Health
Ministry’s website late Wednesday. The move comes after the Italian
antitrust authorities in March fined the two Swiss pharmaceutical companies
combined $250 million in the same case, having found that they colluded to
keep doctors from prescribing a relatively inexpensive eye treatment in
favor of a more expensive drug used to treat a common cause of blindness.

The ministry statement said that the companies’ anticompetitive actions had
caused the national health service “considerable damage,” though it did not
provide details.

“Magistrates will ascertain the facts,” Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin
told reporters on Thursday. “Should it turn out that there has been an
abuse, it is right that the national health fund is compensated.”

Novartis issued a statement rejecting the assertions. “We strongly deny
allegations about anticompetitive practices,” it said, noting that it had
appealed the antitrust authority’s fine on May 2. Roche did not immediately
respond to a request for comment, but it has previously denied any
impropriety, calling the charges unfounded.

In a separate action also announced late Wednesday, the ministry said it
was pursuing damages of €14 million from Pfizer, the largest pharmaceutical
company in the United States, for seeking to keep generic drugs out of the
market. The claim dates to 2012, when the antitrust authority found Pfizer
had abused the patent system to stop generic competitors to its Xalatan eye
drops, used to treat glaucoma.

Pfizer disputed the ministry’s claim, saying in a statement, “We believe
our conduct is in compliance with both industrial and antitrust laws and we
vigorously contest the request of damages.”

Faced with the strains that an aging population and a stagnating economy
have placed on its health service, Italy has been seeking to keep a tight
rein on drug costs, an effort that has included a crackdown on questionable
sales and marketing practices.

The ministry’s claim against Novartis and Roche is based on the conclusion
of Italian investigators that the Swiss companies secretly encouraged the
use of a drug in which they shared an interest, Lucentis, to treat
age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in the
elderly. The companies worked to inhibit sales of a cheaper alternative,
the anticancer drug Avastin, they found, by overstating its dangers.

It is possible that the fines will not end in Italy, as the French
authorities this spring began investigating Novartis and Roche in the same

David Jolly reported from Paris and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome.

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