AZ fined for cunning plan to delay generics

 AstraZeneca has lost its appeal to the European Court of Justice against a €52.5m fine for its tactics to delay generic versions of Losec (omeprazole).

The company was fined by the European Commission in 2005 for manipulating regulatory approval in order to block generics.

According to the Commission, AZ launched a tablet version of the ulcer drug in 2001 and asked for the capsule’s authorisation to be withdrawn.

As a result, generic companies planning to launch their own capsule versions of omeprazole were blocked.

The Commission also claimed that AZ had deceived patent offices, courts and lawyers in several EU states over the date of Losec’s authorisation.

Losec, a proton pump inhibitor, was the world’s best-selling drug in 2000, but its European patent expired in 2001.

The European Commission commented that the appeal decision would prevent other companies from misusing drug regulatory procedures in order to protect their drug patents.

According to Ana Nicholls, Healthcare Analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, “This case exposed some of the strategems that pharma companies have used to delay the launch of cheaper generic versions of their drugs.

“By upholding the ruling, the court confirmed that pharma companies have to stamp out these practices or risk a substantial fine.”

Jonas Koponen of London law firm Linklaters commented that the decision was representative of “the European Commission’s policy of removing obstacles to competition from generics”.