Back in 2005, AstraZeneca (AZ) was fined €60 million by the European Commission for abuse of a dominant position by blocking or delaying the market access of Omeprazole generics and preventing parallel imports of Losec (made from the generic drug Omeprazole) which belongs to a family of highly effective drugs known as “proton pump inhibitors” and is used clinically to treat peptic ulcers and other stomach acid-related conditions.
AZ appealed to the General Court of the European Commission against the decision. After a detailed examination of the issues, in July the court reduced the fine to €52.5 million - the main findings of the European Commission were upheld. Full details of the case can be found here.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) also announced earlier this year that it was investigating Reckett Benckiser for potentially abusing its dominant position in the market for the NHS supply of Gaviscon. The investigation involves a computer system used by the NHS which allows GPs to search for a well-known branded pharmaceutical product and then provide patients with an “open” prescription that lists the generic name of the relevant drug. Pharmacists can then choose whether to dispense the actual brand or a cheaper generic drug, if available.
The OFT claims that Reckett Benckiser deliberately timed the withdrawal of the NHS packs of Gaviscon Original Liquid from the NHS prescription channel so that it would occur before the publication of the generic name of the product. That way, when GPs searched for “Gaviscon” they would find Gaviscon Advance Liquid and not Gaviscon Original Liquid. As Gaviscon Advance Liquid remains patent protected, there are no generic equivalents available on the market. The OFT Press Release can be found here.
From the perspective of the NHS, anti-competitive behaviour such as that carried out by AZ can reduce the choice of drugs available to prescribers and keep the price of drugs artificially high.