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Pharmaceutical companies: anti-competitive practices jeopardise research

Pharmaceutical companies are using every trick in the book to delay competition from generics or new drugs.

A study on pharmaceutical companies by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition reveals damning evidence of anti-competitive practices that are contrary to public interest.

The study highlights a vast array of anti-competitive practices against generics: disinformation via the media by questioning the efficacy or the quality of generic drugs; minor chemical modifications to drugs whose patent is about to expire so as to obtain patent protection for replacement drugs presented as "second generation"; creating batteries of patents to deter and delay manufacturers of generics; numerous court cases relating to patents which are often weak; financial deals to delay the marketing of generics, etc. The study also shows that pharmaceutical companies are pressuring the drug regulatory agencies to delay the marketing of generics or decisions on reimbursement by the health insurance system.

But without question, the most appalling practices laid bare by the study are the registering of so-called "defensive" patents, which delay the marketing of rival new drugs.

These anti-competitive practices cost the public purse billions of euros. Pharmaceutical companies use patents to discourage research. It would be hard to understand that politicians do not take energetic measures to halt these practices.

©Prescrire November 2009

"Europe: patents limiting access to medication" Prescrire Int 2009; 18 (103): 227 (pdf, free)

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