ASTRAZENECA, the Anglo-Swedish drugs giant, is facing a hundred- million-dollar lawsuit accusing it of illegally keeping up prices for its breast cancer treatment, Nolvadex.
The legal action, which comes a matter of months before AstraZeneca's blockbuster ulcer treatment Losec comes off patent, alleges that the drugs group conspired with a generic pharmaceutical maker, Barr Laboratories, to keep cheap versions of the cancer drug off the market.
The action has been brought by 17 consumer groups in the US which say that Zeneca - which merged with Astra to form AstraZeneca in 1999 - and Barr struck an agreement in 1993 to stop Barr producing a generic rival to Nolvadex.
The deal followed a court victory for Barr in 1992 in which it won the right to produce a cheaper, generic version of Nolvadex, a pounds 400m-a-year drug.
Zeneca paid Barr $21m (about pounds 14m) and in return Barr agreed to sell Zeneca's drug rather than produce its own.
Bruce Downey, Barr's chief executive, said that Astra-Zeneca was threatening to take the case to appeal and he feared Barr would lose.
The group co-ordinating the lawsuit against AstraZeneca and Barr, the Prescription Access Litigation Project, claims that the firms illegally suppor-ted prices, with the generic ver- sion of Nolvadex only being 5 per cent cheaper than the branded product, when usually they are at least a third cheaper. …