The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said Thursday that it filed a lawsuit in the country’s federal court against Pfizer Inc.(NYSE:PFE), claiming that the company’s Australian unit made deals with pharmacies in 2012 for the sale of the generic cholesterol drug atorvastatin that allegedly violated competition rules.
Atorvastatin is a Pfizer-developed generic of the popular cholesterol medicine Lipitor, also made by Pfizer. The drug’s patent expired under Australia’s federal drug plan in May 2012. Prior to its patent expiring, however, Lipitor was the top-selling prescription drug in the country, prescribed to more than 1 million Australians and bringing in annual sales of more than Australian $700 million, or about $625 million, Bloomberg reports.
Pfizer is being sued for allegedly approaching pharmacies in Australia prior to Lipitor’s patent expiry, striking deals in which the pharmacies were supposedly offered discounts and rebates if they bought at least a 12-month supply of the company’s generic version of the drug.
According to a Pfizer statement, the company believes the deals it offered the pharmacies were competitive, saying: “Pfizer believes strongly that the offers referred to by the ACCC were competitive. We will vigorously defend the proceedings,” per Reuters.
The Australian regulator, on the other hand, argues that the discounts offered were “significant” and were meant to deter competition.
“Pfizer engaged in this conduct for the purpose of deterring or preventing competitors in the market for atorvastatin from engaging in competitive conduct,” the ACCC chairman said in a statement, seen by Bloomberg. “This case also raises an important public interest issue regarding the conduct of a patent holder nearing the expiry of that patent.”
The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties and declarations, although specifics weren’t given, according to Bloomberg; the regulator added that Pfizer’s preliminary hearing is currently scheduled for March 18.