| LUXEMBOURG, June 6
LUXEMBOURG, June 6 French drugmaker Servier
urged an EU court on Tuesday to slash a 331 million euro ($372
million) antitrust fine, saying regulators had committed
multiple errors when they ruled against the company's
pay-for-delay deals with generic rivals three years ago.
Such deals, a typical business practice in the industry, are
frowned upon by competition authorities on both sides of the
Atlantic, who say they block the entry of cheaper generic
medicines into the market as governments grapple with rising
The case against Servier and five other drugmakers related
to the French company's cardiovascular medicine perindopril.
Servier's appeal against the fine imposed by the European
Commission in 2014 comes as the EU competition enforcer recently
opened another front against the sector, this time an
investigation into South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare for
allegedly charging excessive prices for five key cancer drugs.
The case relating to perindopril was triggered by a
regulatory inquiry into the sector in 2008 and 2009, which found
that pay-for-delay deals were costing European consumers
billions of euros.
"The Commission's investigation was skewed from the
beginning," Servier lawyer Olivier de Juvigny told a panel of
five judges at the General Court, Europe's second highest court,
on the first day of a four-day hearing.
He said public statements made by two previous competition
commissioners on the case even before a decision was issued
showed bias against the company, on top of legal and procedural
Commission lawyer Bernard Mongin denied prejudice against
"The investigation was carried out in a neutral manner," he
said, adding that it was clear that Servier wanted to block
rivals' cheaper medicines.
"Servier was faced with the risk of entry of generics and it
set about neutralising these risks," he said.
Lobbying group the European Federation of Pharmaceutical
Industries and Associations (EFPIA) backed Servier, saying that
the Commission should not punish legitimate settlement deals on
patents simply because they include the transfer of money.
Danish peer Lundbeck tried but failed to convince
the EU Court of Justice (ECJ), Europe's top court, last year
that its deals with five smaller rivals to delay cheaper generic
copies of its blockbuster citalopram anti-depressant from
entering the market were not anti-competitive.
The case is T-691/14 Servier SAS and others v Commission.
($1 = 0.8891 euros)
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Susan Fenton)