Supporters of parallel trade have been cheering an opinion from the European Court of Justice which accuses GlaxoSmithKline of breaking antitrust laws on the tough stance it took with wholesalers in Greece.

The opinion represents the latest stage in a long-running battle between GSK and Greek wholesalers who took the firm to court after GSK refused to supply them with shipments of epilepsy drug Lamictal (lamotrigine), the migraine treatment Imigran (sumatriptan) for migraines and Serevent (salmeterol) for asthma in November 2000. The firm limited its shipment volumes to pharmacists so that there would only be enough product available for the Greek market.

In September 2006, the competition authorities in Greece ruled that GSK had not acted unlawfully in restricting supplies of the three products but the European Court of Justice would appear to disagree. Advocate General Damaso Ruiz-Jarabo has issued a non-binding opinion saying that "a pharmaceutical company holding a dominant position which refuses to meet the orders of wholesalers, in order to limit parallel trade, engages in abusive practice".

He added that “in this case, there are no objective reasons relating to state intervention in the market which would excuse such conduct.” Mr Ruiz-Jarabo also rejected the idea of “a causal link between the loss of income because of parallel trading and the producer’s reduction of investment in R&D”, adding that “apart from the description of the negative consequences of parallel trade, GSK has not indicated any positive aspect resulting from its cutting down on medicinal supplies to wholesalers”.

The company limited itself to stressing that the opinion of Mr Ruiz-Jarabo is non-binding and it is waiting for the European Court of Justice’s final decision. The latter’s judges are now beginning their deliberations in this case.

However the response from the European Association of Euro-Pharmaceutical Companies, which represents parallel traders, was far more positive. Heinz Kobelt, secretary-general of the EAEPC, said that “we welcome this important opinion from Advocate General Ruiz-Jarabo. We trust now other manufacturers will learn the lesson of this opinion and stop hindering the free movement of medicines inside the EU”.