Bloomberg News

AstraZeneca Antitrust Fine Should Stand, EU Court Aide Says

May 15, 2012

AstraZeneca Plc (AZN), the U.K.’s second- biggest drugmaker, shouldn’t get a further reduction for an antitrust fine of 52.5 million euros ($67.5 million), an adviser to the European Union’s highest court said.

Jan Mazak, the advocate general to the EU’s Court of Justice, said the tribunal shouldn’t re-examine a reduction of the penalty, according at a non-binding opinion today.

A 2010 lower court ruling cut AstraZeneca’s fine from the 60 million euros levied by EU regulators. The company misled patent officials and flouted antitrust rules to block a generic version of its Prilosec heartburn medicine, according to the 2005 antitrust decision.

“The General Court correctly examined all the elements relevant to the calculation of the fine,” Mazak said in the opinion. The higher court shouldn’t “substitute, on grounds of fairness, its own assessment” for a previous ruling.

Prilosec was the world’s best-selling drug in the late 1990s. The European Commission, the region’s antitrust regulator, said AstraZeneca blocked cheaper versions from 1993 to 2000 to keep prices high. AstraZeneca provided the patent offices in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the U.K. with incorrect data to extend patent protection on Prilosec, the EU said.

Antitrust Review

Mazak also advised the court to reject challenges from regulators, AstraZeneca and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations to the 2010 ruling.

EU antitrust officials are reviewing pharmaceutical companies’ agreements with generic competitors to check whether the deals break antitrust rules by delaying the market entry of generic versions of branded medicines.

The EU in March dropped a probe into AstraZeneca and Nycomed A/S, now part of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., after it found no evidence that they had colluded to keep cheaper copies of medicines off the market. The EU’s antitrust agency raided AstraZeneca and Nycomed in November 2010. AstraZeneca, second to GlaxoSmithKline Plc in the U.K., said at the time that the inspections at its premises concerned the ulcer drug Nexium.

While the court aide’s opinion isn’t binding, it is followed by the court in the majority of cases.

The case is C-457/10 P AstraZeneca v Commission.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aoife White in Brussels at awhite62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net


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