Saturday, March 08, 2008

Drug Dealing

Reckitt, the Hull-based drug and cleaning products company, plotted under the codename “Project Eric” to block rivals from selling cheaper generic copies of Gaviscon. Reckitt Benckiser faces a series of investigations by competition and health regulators over an alleged secret plan to maintain a monopoly in the supply of Gaviscon, the lucrative heartburn medicine. E-mails between executives discuss how to “drag out as long as possible” the process of other companies being allowed to manufacture generic versions, and their intention to create “a further barrier to competitors” and “restrict entry for new competitors”.

Before a rival company can create a generic drug, the British National Formulary must give it an official title. Reckitt tried to claim Gaviscon was unique and such a title could not be issued. It objected in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2006.The drug company also successfully lobbied the British Pharmacopoeia Commission (BPC), part of the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, that for health and safety reasons, a detailed quality specification known as a monograph was needed.

One Reckitt executive wrote: “Should we not drag it out as long as possible . . . £9 million of business is at stake”. The e-mails talk of “a clever idea” - to make a near-identical product with a different name. “There must be something we can dig out of the cupboard!” one executive wrote.

Reckitt tried to persuade doctors to prescribe the new Gaviscon Advance. In 2005 the industry’s watchdog found it guilty of unethical behaviour.

The news comes shortly after the European Commission began an inquiry into whether pharmaceutical companies were employing illegal tactics to delay generic versions.In January, it raided the offices of some of the world’s largest drug companies, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co and Sanofi-Aventis. In 2005 AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish drug manufacturer, was fined €60 million for trying to delay rival versions of its ulcer drug, Losec, thereby keeping prices artificially high.

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