Pharma Companies Form Coalition to Fight FTC Antitrust Overhaul

Pictured: FTC sign on a wall/iStock

Pictured: FTC sign on a wall/iStock

Pharma giants including AbbVie, Amgen, Gilead, Merck and Novartis have helped to form a new 31-member industry coalition, the Partnership for the U.S. Life Science Ecosystem, that plans to push back against a proposed overhaul of federal antitrust guidelines and advocate for “pro-innovation” mergers and acquisitions in the sector.

In Wednesday’s announcement about the formation of the Partnership for the U.S. Life Science Ecosystem (PULSE), the pharma-backed coalition said that the Federal Trade Commission’s new approach to antitrust enforcement “runs counter to long-standing precedent that has guided pro-innovation M&A for decades.” The group also warned that if the “flawed approach” to M&A review and enforcement goes forward it “would undermine the dynamic ecosystem responsible for many of the world’s most innovative and important treatments.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and FTC in July 2023 released new draft merger guidelines in a significant shift in their approach to examining mergers in industries including the pharma sector. Among the 13 proposed principles for reviewing mergers is a key principle that mergers should not substantially increase concentration in already highly saturated markets.

In addition, previously the FTC’s antitrust enforcers primarily focused on direct competition. However, the updated guidelines now consider how companies leverage their negotiating power.

DOJ and FTC earlier this summer also proposed changes to the premerger notification and review process as well as the form that companies must complete. These new requirements could add two to three months to the deal-review timetable. However, the agencies contend that the new filing rules will allow them to “more effectively and efficiently screen transactions” for antitrust concerns.

Amgen, a founding member of PULSE, was sued by the FTC in May 2023 to stop the company from acquiring Horizon Therapeutics, though an agreement was reached allowing the acquisition to proceed in September. The $27.8 billion deal was by far the largest of its kind in 2022.

Biotech executive Andrew Pannu, with a background in investment banking, private equity and corporate development, told Biospace last month that the case suggests the Biden administration is taking a closer look at the industry’s rebating practices. The FTC’s concern was that Amgen could pressure pharmacy benefit managers into favoring Horizon treatments by offering rebates on its own drugs which can be used in a complementary way.

PULSE contends that “deterring pro-innovation M&A would obstruct the many complementary relationships across the life sciences ecosystem, stalling treatments and cures for patients while risking jobs, wages and economic growth in every state.” The coalition’s strategy is for its members to “collectively highlight the importance of shared efficiencies and expertise that companies leverage across the development process through M&A” and to “provide real-world insight into the economic importance and benefits of M&A within local communities and to broader growth and development.”

Connor Lynch is a freelance writer based in Ottawa, Canada. Reach him at lynchjourno@gmail.com

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