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AstraZeneca Under EU Antitrust Fire

By Agence France-Presse Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca PLC found itself in hot water with the European Commission July 31 for alleged patent abuses designed to block generic rivals to a best-selling drug. The European Union's executive arm said it had launched a formal antitrust investigation after AstraZeneca allegedly tried to keep out competitors to Prilosec (called Losec outside the U.S.), a popular medicine used for stomach complaints. AstraZeneca confirmed it had received a "statement of objections" from the Commission, the first stage in the investigation, but dismissed the claims as "groundless." The Commission accused AstraZeneca of "misrepresentations" to patent offices in several EU member states in a bid to obtain supplementary protection certificates (SPCs) for the drug. SPCs extend the basic patent protection for a drug by a maximum of five years, to take into account the time that may have elapsed between the filing of a patent application and the product's authorization for sale. EU anti-trust investigators raided AstraZeneca offices in Britain and Sweden in February 2000 after two makers of generic drugs complained the company had illegally obtained extra protection for Prilosec. London-based AstraZeneca said it "vigorously refutes any wrongdoing", adding it was "confident the allegations made by the Commission should be rejected as groundless." Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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