Swiss pharma giants fined by France in ongoing eye drug clash

The two drugs are used to to treat patients with blindness-causing macular degeneration. Keystone/Jay

The pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche have been fined €444 million (CHF481 million) by the French competition authority for applying abusive practices to push costly eye injection Lucentis over a cheaper drug.

This content was published on September 9, 2020 - 15:27
swissinfo.ch with Reuters/ug

The two Swiss pharma companies abused their dominant position to push Lucentis at the expense of the drug Avastin, the French competition watchdog announced on Wednesday.

It added that Novartis was also punished for “unjustifiably exaggerating” Avastin’s risks.

Novartis, which said it would appeal, is facing high stakes in protecting Lucentis sales in Europe, after the uptake of its newest eye drug, Beovu, has been slowed by safety concerns.

Novartis must pay €385 million and Roche about €60 million, according to the decision.

Roche and Novartis are partners on Lucentis, with Roche selling it in the United States and Novartis selling it in Europe.

Running battle

The fines are the latest development in a running battle between the drug makers and countries where some doctors have turned to Roche’s cheaper Avastin to replace costly Lucentis, to treat patients with blindness-causing macular degeneration (AMD).

Lucentis was developed for AMD but works like cancer drug Avastin by inhibiting blood vessel growth. Avastin is used “off-label” to treat AMD.

The French authority said Lucentis, injected roughly once per month, costs €1,161 per injection, while Avastin runs at €30 to €40 per shot.

Similar disputes have emerged elsewhere. In 2018, Novartis and Roche lost a bid in Britain to block doctors from making Avastin the preferred option for AMD.

Roche said it was disappointed and would "assess” the situation.

Novartis said a French rule allowing off-label use of medicines in diseases with approved treatments threatens the system of ensuring safe and effective drugs.

“This decision relies on a gross misinterpretation of the facts and a distortion of previous case law,” Novartis said.

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