The EU regulator said yesterday (17 January) that it was pressing pharmaceutical companies for more information on their patent deals with generic companies, in a bid to make sure there is no delay in cheaper drugs coming to market.
The Commission said the move was the latest in a series of EU crackdowns on possible anti-competitive practices in the pharmaceutical sector, after a 2009 patents enquiry pointed to significant risks for European consumers.
It did not mention any company it requested information from, but Britain's AstraZeneca PLC and GlaxoSmithKline, France's Sanofi-Aventis and Novartis and Roche of Switzerland said last year the Commission had contacted them about drug patent settlements.
The EU executive, the competition watchdog of the 27-nation EU, said it had asked firms to submit copies of their patent settlement agreements concluded in the bloc last year.
Patent settlements are generally fees paid by pharmaceutical companies to generic drug makers to persuade them to delay selling the generic version of their medicines.
"Patent settlements are an area of particular concern because they may delay the market entry of generic medicines," Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in a statement.
"The outcome of our first monitoring exercise showed that potentially problematic agreements had decreased significantly," he said.
It said the number of such patent settlements fell to 10% of total patent settlements in the sector in the period between July 2008 and December 2009, compared with 22% in the period covered in the inquiry into the sector from January 2000 to June 2008.
"The amount of money involved in the settlements, between the so-called 'originator' pharmaceutical companies and producers of generic drugs also decreased from more than €200 million recorded in the sector inquiry period, to less than €1 million, according to the 2010 report," the Commission said.
(EURACTIV with Reuters.)