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Roche/Novartis offices raided over anti-competitive activities

Published on 11/04/14 at 11:29am

French competition authorities are investigating Roche and Novartis in connection with their marketing of Lucentis for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

A notice on the website of the Authorite de la Concurrence says that unannounced visits were made on 8 April to unnamed companies in France suspected of being involved in ‘anti-competitive activities’.

Documents have been removed from the offices but the Authorite declined to comment, telling Pharmafocus that the procedure was ‘confidential’.

However, both the Swiss companies have confirmed that an investigation regarding treatments for Lucentis (ranibizumab) which is co-marketed between Novartis and Roche ‘has begun’ and that they are ‘fully co-operating’.

Roche has denied any wrongdoing. “Roche confirms there is no agreement between Roche and Novartis that restricts competition,” the manufacturer says in a statement.

Novartis said it was “aware of the ongoing investigation initiated by the French antitrust authority regarding anti-VEGF treatments for wet age-related macular degeneration and is cooperating with the authorities on the matter. At this time we cannot comment further on the allegations of the on-going investigation”.

Reuters reported last month that Italy’s antitrust authority fined the two firms 182.5 million euros after alleging that they colluded to prevent doctors prescribing Roche’s cancer drug Avastin for wet AMD in favour of the more expensive drug Lucentis.

Off-label prescribing of Avastin for wet AMD has been relatively common even though the drug is not approved for this licence.

The issue was the subject of a legal battle in the UK, where the Southampton, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth (SHIP) Cluster was making it available to patients.

Avastin is chemically similar to Lucentis and by prescribing it off-label, the hospitals were able to dramatically reduce the £7.5 million bill that it cost every year for Lucentis.

The cluster decided reverse its stance after Novartis offered Lucentis at a discounted price –although the size of the price cut remains confidential.

Adam Hill

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