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04 Mar 2014

Drugs giant Pfizer Australia has been accused of abusing its competitive position to try to corner the multi-million dollar market for anti-cholesterol medication.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has alleged that in early 2012 Pfizer tried to induce pharmacies to stock up on its best-selling cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor and its generic offshoot atorvastatin ahead of the expiry of the Lipitor patent in May 2012.

The ACCC has alleged the company offered pharmacies significant discounts and rebates in return for stocking at least a 12 months’ supply of Pfizer’s atorvastatin product.

The regulator said the offers were first made prior to the loss of patent, when other generic suppliers were prevented from making competing offers.
At the time, Lipitor was prescribed for more than one million people, and annual sales reached more than $700 million.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims alleged that Pfizer engaged in this conduct “for the purpose of deterring or preventing competitors in the market for atorvastatin from engaging in competitive conduct, as well as for the purpose of substantially lessening competition”.

Mr Sims said that deterring anti-competitive conduct was a top priority for the ACCC because of the harm it could cause to the economy and consumers, particularly when it involved such a widely-used product.

“This case also raises an important public interest issue regarding the conduct of a patent holder nearing the expiry of that patent, and what constitutes permissible competitive conduct,” he said.

The ACCC is seeking a pecuniary penalty, as well as legal costs and “declarations”.

The matter is listed for a directions hearing before the Federal Court in Sydney on 18 March.

Adrian Rollins

Published: 04 Mar 2014