In early March, the EC announced in quick succession the closure of investigations into alleged anti-competitive practices by AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, among others, that it considered may have delayed the entry of generic drugs onto the market. Following the Pharmaceutical Sector Inquiry, the EC has made investigating behavior that may restrict the availability of generic versions of medicines a top priority, opening several cases in this area. Few details about the two investigations are available in the public domain, but the closure of the cases suggests that the Commission did not find sufficient evidence to support its allegations. However, national competition authorities in the Netherlands and the UK are continuing to investigate the companies involved.
On 1 March, the EC announced that it had closed its investigation of AstraZeneca and Nycomed, which it suspected of having either individually or jointly delayed the market entry of generic competitors for AstraZeneca's drug Nexium, a heartburn medicine. The investigation was originally opened in 2010 after unannounced inspections by the Commission in several EU Member States. The EC's press release stated that "such behaviour, if established would have been contrary to EU antitrust rules that prohibit restrictive business practices and the abuse of a dominant market position." Furthermore, in an effort to emphasize its focus on behavior that delays generic entry, the Commission noted in its statement that investigations were underway against several other pharmaceutical companies for alleged anticompetitive practices involving generic companies.
Although the closure of the file by the EC is good news for AstraZeneca, the Dutch Competition Authority has not concluded its investigation into whether AstraZeneca's actions relating to Nexium led to the foreclosure of generic versions of certain proton pump inhibitors.
The day after announcing it had closed its investigation into AstraZeneca, the Commission confirmed on 2 March that it had administratively closed an investigation involving GlaxoSmithKline and Synthon. It has been reported that the case was closed following the withdrawal of a complaint and that the investigation related to the antidepressant drug Paroxetine. GlaxoSmithKline previously confirmed in a company filing that the Commission had carried out an inspection in 2005 at its premises following allegations about an abuse of dominance relating to Seroxat, the trade name for Paroxetine.
However, GlaxoSmithKline also continues to face scrutiny from a national competition authority relating to generics. In August 2011, the OFT opened a formal investigation into GlaxoSmithKline and Generics UK, looking at whether litigation settlements and payments to potential generic suppliers in relation to paroxetine restricted competition. In a company statement, GlaxoSmithKline has confirmed that the subject matter of the OFT’s investigation is the same as the recently closed EC case. It remains to be seen whether the OFT, unlike the EC, will take further action relating to its investigation of brand-generic agreements.