EU launches antitrust investigation into pharmaceutical industry

The European Union (EU) antitrustregulator said Wednesday it had launched an investigation into the pharmaceutical industry for an alleged lack of competition.

Inspectors from the European Commission raided a number of innovative and generic pharmaceutical companies as part of the sector inquiry, which is a response to indications that competition in pharmaceutical markets in Europe may not be working well.

The Commission said fewer new pharmaceuticals are being brought to market and the entry of generic pharmaceuticals sometimes seems to be delayed, which could result from agreements between pharmaceutical companies restricting competition or unilateral abuses of dominant position.

"From 1995-1999 an average of 40 novel molecular entities were launched per year. From 2000-2004 the figure was only 28," it said.

The Commission said it would also look into whether companies may have created artificial barriers to entry through the misuse of patent rights, vexatious litigation or other means, and whether such practices may violate EU antitrust rules.

"Individuals and governments want a strong pharmaceuticals sector that delivers better products and value for money.

But if innovative products are not being produced, and cheaper generic alternatives to existing products are in some cases being delayed, then we need to find out why and, if necessary, take action," said EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

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