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Bristol-Myers in US antitrust probe
July 31, 2006

By James Rowley

Washington - The US justice department was investigating allegations that Bristol-Myers Squibb deceived US antitrust enforcers about an agreement to limit competition to the drug maker's top selling drug, Plavix, sources said at the weekend.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which was reviewing the proposed agreement to settle a patent dispute over the drug, sought a criminal investigation after officials at Apotex, a Canadian generic drug maker, contradicted statements Bristol-Myers made to the FTC, sources said.

FBI agents searched the New York City offices of Bristol-Myers and the office of chief executive Peter Dolan last week for documents and e-mails that might provide evidence to support the FTC complaint.

The investigation centres on an agreement that Bristol-Myers made with Apotex to delay the marketing of an inexpensive generic copy of Plavix, a blood thinning medicine with $6.3 billion (R43 billion) in sales last year.

Under the original agreement proposed in March, Bristol-Myers pledged not to market its own generic version of the blood thinner until six months after Apotex had begun selling its cheaper copy of Plavix. That provision, which the FTC found objectionable, would give Apotex a six-month jump on any competition for sales of cheaper alternatives to the $4 a day Plavix.

The FTC and state attorneys-general had been reviewing an agreement between Bristol-Myers and its co-marketing partner, Sanofi-Aventis, with Apotex. The agreement was made to settle patent litigation over the generic equivalent of Plavix, which received Food and Drug Administration approval earlier this year.

State attorneys-general at the weekend rejected the agreement to allow Apotex to begin selling a cheaper copy of the pill. That decision revives the patent dispute between the companies. The trial, set to begin in June, had been indefinitely postponed after the March settlement.

The states "object to and will not approve the settlement agreement", said Maryland deputy attorney-general Meredyth Andrus. - Bloomberg

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