Pfizer Australia Faces Antitrust Probe

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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MELBOURNE, Australia--Australia's antitrust regulator has launched court proceedings against the local arm of Pfizer Inc. alleging it misused its market power in the sale of a popular cholesterol-lowering drug.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in a statement Thursday said its action in the federal court relates to offers made to drugstores in early 2012 for the supply of Lipitor and Pfizer's generic variant, atorvastatin.

Pfizer's Australian unit in an emailed response to questions said it strongly believes its offers were competitive. It said it would "vigorously defend" the proceedings brought against it.

Lipitor was for a number of years the highest selling prescription medicine under Australia's publicly-subsidized drug program, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Before Pfizer lost patent protection on the drug in May 2012, it was prescribed to more than one million Australians and had sales of more than 700 million Australian dollars (US$626 million), the regulator said.

The ACCC said its action claimed that Pfizer Australia Pty Ltd. offered significant discounts and rebates that had applied to supplies of its Lipitor drug on the condition that drugstores bought minimum volumes of up to 12 months supply of the generic atorvastatin. The offers were first made ahead of the loss of patent protection, when other suppliers were prevented from making competing offers to supply their generic versions to pharmacies, it said.

The regulator said it was seeking penalties, declarations and costs. A directions hearing has been set for March 18 in Sydney.

Pfizer said that because the matter was before a court, it was inappropriate for it to comment further.

Write to Robb M. Stewart at Robb.Stewart@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires


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