European competition authorities yesterday fined AstraZeneca some 60 million euros ($73 million dollars) for blocking the market entry of cheaper generic versions of its one-time blockbuster anti-ulcerant, Losec (omeprazole).

In its ruling, reached yesterday after a six-year investigation, the Competition Commission said that AstraZeneca had abused its dominant market position between 1993 and 2000 by blocking or delaying market access for generic versions of Losec and preventing parallel imports of the product.

AstraZeneca said that it “fundamentally disagrees” with the findings. The company maintains that it acted in good faith and claims that the case could ultimately have a negative impact on future competitiveness within the pharmaceutical industry. Chief executive, Sir Tom McKillop, said: “AstraZeneca has not made misrepresentations or behaved inappropriately. We believe that a proper evaluation on appeal of all the facts and legal position will confirm that the Commission’s analysis is fundamentally flawed.”

The Commission says that the company gave misleading information to several national patent offices in a bid to gain extended patent protection for the medicine, which was the world’s best selling prescription drug during part of the 1990s, through so-called supplementary protection certificates. Abuses are said to have occurred in Belgium Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK. In addition, the Competition Commission found that AstraZeneca had selectively deregistered certain the marketing authorisations for Losec in Denmark, Norway and Sweden in order to prevent parallel traders selling the product which, at its peak, generated annual sales in excess of $6.3 billion.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: “Misleading regulators to gain longer protection acts as a disincentive to innovate and is a serious infringement of EU competition rules. Healthcare systems throughout Europe rely on generic drugs to keep costs down. Patients benefit from lower prices. By preventing generic competition AstraZeneca kept Losec prices artificially high.”