EU Says India’s Alchem Is Part of International Drug Price-Fixing Cartel

European Commission/iStock, olrat

Pictured: The Berlaymont building in Belgium, which houses the European Commission/iStock, olrat

The European Commission on Thursday accused India-based pharma company Alchem International of taking part in a “long-lasting cartel” to fix the minimum price of a widely used pharmaceutical ingredient.

The EC is alleging that Alchem has worked with other market players to fix prices and establish minimum quotas for N-Butylbromide Scopolamine/Hyoscine, more popularly known as SNBB, a component of the antispasmodic drug Buscopan and its generic versions.

Margrethe Vestager, executive vice president in charge of competition policy at the EC, in a statement said that Alchem could have engaged in an “agreement with competitors to coordinate prices and allocate quotas” for SNBB. These actions may have harmed European consumers and resulted in “restricted access to affordable medicines.”

The watchdog has already informed Alchem of its allegations and investigation. The pharma company can then review the EC’s documents and request an oral hearing to present its response.

After Alchem’s defense, if the EC still finds the company in violation of anti-trust regulations, then the watchdog can adopt a ruling that prohibits such corporate conduct and fine Alchem for up to 10% of its annual worldwide turnover.

Thursday’s investigation into Alchem follows a previous SNBB probe by the EC. In October 2023, the watchdog found that several other pharma companies also participated in this price-fixing cartel, including Alkaloids of Australia, Alkaloids Corporation, Transo-Pharm, Linnea and Boehringer.

The companies were hit with a total fine of approximately $14.35 million. A sixth company, C2 PHARMA, also took part in the cartel but was exempted from the fine because it qualified for the EC’s leniency program by revealing the cartel to investigators. The October 2023 fine represented the first time the EC sanctioned a cartel in the pharmaceutical sector.

The EC in recent months has stepped up its crackdown on anti-competitive practices in the pharma industry.

In April 2024, the watchdog announced that its investigation into CSL Vifor, formerly Vifor Pharma, has culminated in the company agreeing to a comprehensive, multi-channel communication effort to undo the effects of a multi-year misinformation campaign against a competitor drug.

In July 2023, the EC slapped DNA sequencing giant Illumina with a $476 million fine—the largest penalty that the agency has ever meted out under its merger regulations. The fine is for Illumina’s 2020 acquisition of cancer detection biotech Grail, which it pushed through prior to the EC completing its anti-trust review of the deal.

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. Reach out to him on LinkedIn or email him at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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