* Walgreen, Kroger, Safeway, SuperValu, HEB Grocery sue
* Retailers said they overpaid for Lipitor
* Pfizer, Ranbaxy accused of violating antitrust law
* Pfizer denies claims; Ranbaxy not immediately available
By Jonathan Stempel
July 5 Five big U.S. retailers filed an
antitrust lawsuit against Pfizer Inc and India's Ranbaxy
Laboratories Ltd on Thursday, accusing them of
conspiring to delay sales of generic versions of Lipitor, the
best-selling drug in history.
Walgreen Co, Kroger Co, Safeway Inc,
SuperValu Inc and HEB Grocery Co accused the defendants
of running an "overarching anticompetitive scheme" to keep
generic versions of the cholesterol drug off the market until
Nov. 30, 2011, 20 months after the original patent expired.
They said the defendants did this by obtaining a fraudulent
patent, engaging in sham litigation, entering a price-fixing
agreement to delay cheaper generics, and entering arrangements
with pharmacy benefit managers to force retailers to buy more
Lipitor, whose chemical name is atorvastatin calcium.
"Because of defendants' scheme to delay and suppress generic
Lipitor competition, in whole or in part, plaintiffs have paid
hundreds of millions of dollars more for atorvastatin calcium
than they would have paid," according to the complaint, which
seeks triple damages and other remedies.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Trenton, New
Pfizer denies the plaintiffs' claims and will defend itself
vigorously, spokesman Christopher Loder said.
"We are confident that Pfizer's procurement and enforcement
of its Lipitor patents was at all times proper and lawful," he
Ranbaxy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs also did not immediately respond
to a request for comment.
The lawsuit resembles antitrust cases brought against Pfizer
and Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd
by the same plaintiffs, and by CVS Caremark Corp
and Rite Aid Corp, over delays in generic
versions of the antidepressant Effexor XR..
Pfizer and Teva have denied wrongdoing in those cases , which
were also filed in Trenton.
Lipitor sales in 2011 totaled $9.6 billion, accounting for
about one-seventh of Pfizer's total revenue.
In the first quarter of 2012, however, Lipitor sales fell
roughly 42 percent to $1.4 billion from $2.39 billion a year
earlier, a drop that Pfizer attributed almost entirely to the
loss of U.S. exclusivity.
Pfizer is based in New York. Ranbaxy has U.S. offices in
Princeton, New Jersey. Walgreen is based in Deerfield, Illinois;
Kroger in Cincinnati; Safeway in Pleasanton, California;
SuperValu in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and independently owned
HEB in San Antonio.
The case is Walgreen Co et al v. Pfizer Inc et al, U.S.
District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 12-04115.