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Hefty fines against Swiss pharma giants lifted

Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that can blur your central vision. It happens when aging causes damage to the macula — the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision. (Symbolic photo) Keystone / Martin Ruetschi

An appeals court in France has overturned a record fine imposed by the French competition authority against the Swiss pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche.

The verdict was announced by a court in Paris on Thursday.

Both firms were given a fine totaling €444 million (CHF438.9 million) in 2020 for following allegedly abusive practices, notably in the sale of the eye disease drug Lucentis at the expense of the Avastin drug treatment, which is up to 30 times cheaper.

Novartis was accused of conducting a communication campaign from 2008 to 2013 to discredit the use of Avastin in ophthalmology. The company was therefore fined the highest amount, €385 million, while Roche and its US subsidiary Genentech were fined €59 million.

In a first reaction, Novartis and Roche said they were “pleased” with the decision. They have denied allegations from the outset, arguing they acted appropriately in accordance with competition law and in the interests of patients at all times, according to the Swiss AWP news agency.

Different conclusion

The Paris court ruled that Avastin should be considered as no longer on the market from the time new legislation for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration came into effect in 2011.

The judges found that Novartis’ communications during the period under review were “moderate in tone”. They also found that the two companies’ communications had not been “alarmist or even misleading”.

Finally, the court held that the blocking behaviour of Roche, which had refused to provide Avastin samples requested by the health authorities for the launch of a scientific study, could not have had anti-competitive effects.

+ Will hefty price tags of the treatments make them unaffordable?

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