Of the total fine levied by the French competition watchdog totalling €444m, Novartis is expected to pay €385m and Roche would pay €60m


Novartis headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. (Credit: Silesia711/Wikipedia.)

The French Competition Authority has reportedly charged pharmaceutical companies Roche and Novartis, with a €444m fine for abusive practices related to Lucentis injection for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Since six years, the country’s competition authority has been searching for evidence against the companies’ unfair practices in marketing Lucentis. The agency has now come up with its final verdict of penalising the companies.

Of the total fine levied by the French competition watchdog, totalling €444m, Novartis is expected to pay €385m and Roche would pay €60m.

The agency said that the fine is in response to the pharmaceutical firms prompting expensive Lucentis over Roche’s low-cost drug Avastin over for the treatment of patients with AMD.

Roche, through its subsidiary Genentech, has developed Lucentis and has partnered with Novartis to commercialise the drug, with Roche selling the drug the US; and Novartis is marketing it in the European countries.

Lucentis is intended to treat patients with AMD but works similar to cancer drug Avastin by inhibiting blood vessel growth. In France, the companies promoted the use of Avastin off the label indication to treat AMD.

The French regulator said that Lucentis is priced at €1,161 per injection, while Avastin costs between €30 and €40 per shot.

Roche, Novartis abused their position to promote Lucentis over Avastin

The agency said that Roche and Novartis have abused their position to promote Lucentis over Avastin, and Novartis was also penalised for excessive exaggeration of risks from Avastin.

In June this year, Novartis’ Greece unit has offered inappropriate economic benefits to healthcare professionals, in connection with Lucentis from 2012 to 2015.

The company has resolved its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations by signing settlements with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

In 2014, Italian authorities charged the companies, with fines totalling €180m over allegations of misleading patients to Lucentis over Avastin, and the charge was upheld by an Italian court later.

Furthermore, the EU intervened into the investigations in 2018 and ruled that if the companies mislead information about Avastin to favour Lucentis, it would be a violation of EU rules.