Brussels, Dec 11: The European Commission fined drugmakers Johnson & Johnson and Novartis a combined 16 million euros or about $21.95 million Tuesday for delaying market entry of a cheaper generic painkiller in the Netherlands.
European Commission Vice-President Joaquin Almunia, in charge of competition policy, said the two companies "shockingly deprived patients in the Netherlands, including people suffering from cancer, from access to a cheaper version of this medicine," Xinhua reported.
The commission said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson's patent on a patch containing the drug Fentanyl expired in 2005, however in July 2005, it signed a so-called "co-promotion agreement" and paid Novartis to delay launching a generic version.
The delay lasted 17 months, and was more profitable for both companies than competing honestly would have been.
Fentanyl is a pain-killer 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used notably for patients suffering from cancer.
US pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson was fined 10.8 million euros while Novartis of Switzerland was 5.5 million euros.
"Today's decision should make pharmaceutical companies think twice before engaging into such anticompetitive practices, which harm both patients and taxpayers," said Almunia.