Italy fines Roche and Novartis

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Italy's health ministry has fined Roche and Novartis $1.6 billion for the way in which the two Swiss companies marketed the eye drug Lucentis. The Wall Street Journal reports that the fine comes after a government anti-trust division found the companies “colluded to push doctors toward their jointly marketed Lucentis treatment,” by creating what the WSJ describes as “an artificial distinction between the two products...presenting Avastin as being riskier than Lucentis, in an effort to influence prescriptions.”

The $1.6 billion is for damages the government says covers 2012 to 2014. Novartis and Roche told the WSJ they will appeal the decision.

Roche subsidiary Genentech has also been criticized for its efforts to prod Lucentis prescriptions over those for cheaper Avastin. As the Washington Post reported in December, efforts to discourage doctors from using Avastin in place of Lucentis include marketing tactics, such as packaging the lower-priced medication in difficult-to-break-up quantities and not seeking an official expansion of Avastin's indication, keeping it from officially competing against Lucentis among wet-AMD patients.

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