Novartis, Roche fined $528M for anti-competition scheme in France

Novartis and Roche have been fined a collective $528 million by France’s anti-trust regulator for allegedly conspiring to promote the expensive eye disease treatment Lucentis over a less pricey drug, according to STAT.

Lucentis treats age-related macular degeneration, a disease seen frequently in older adults that can cause blindness. Novartis and Roche are partners for the drug, as Roche sells it in the United States and Novartis sells it in Europe.

Avastin, an older and significantly less expensive cancer treatment, is often repackaged by physicians to treat AMD, according to the report. A vial of Lucentis cost about $1,380 in France, while a vial of Avastin costs $35 to $45.

Avastin has not been approved to treat AMD, but a 2012 National Institutes of Health study found it to be just as effective as Lucentis in treating AMD and a 2014 analysis concluded Avastin did not produce any increased risks or side effects in patients.

The French government issued the fine because of Novartis and Roche’s alleged scheme to hawk Lucentis at the expense of Avastin, saying the companies were exaggerating risks associated with Avastin without due evidence. Novartis was fined about $457 million, and Roche was fined about $71 million.

“Novartis is very disappointed by the outcome of the decision and strongly refutes the accusations…regarding alleged anti-competitive practices,” a Novartis spokesperson told STAT. “Novartis firmly believes the company has acted appropriately and in compliance with all applicable regulations. Novartis believes that this decision relies on a gross misinterpretation of the facts and a distortion of previous case law that is not intended to cover the situation in this case.”

A Roche spokesperson told STAT, “we respectfully disagree with and are disappointed by the decision made by the competition authority. Roche acted with the best interest of patients and their safety in mind and in compliance with the regulations set out by the health authorities. We stand behind our actions and will appeal this decision.”

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