In the UK, criminal charges have been levied against five generic drugmakers and nine individuals accused of being involved in price fixing. The Serious Fraud Office yesterday said it had begun proceedings against those named for defrauding the National Health Service in the price and supply of the blood thinning agent warfarin, Marevan (warfarin) and the pencillin-based antibiotics amoxicillin, ampicillin, flucloxacillin and phenomethylpencillin in the four-year period between 1996 and 2000.

The Case Controller, Assistant Director, Philip Lewis, said the case was likely to have a significant impact on the UK’s business culture when it comes to court on April 27. The nine individuals – from Kent Pharmaceuticals, Norton Healthcare, Generics (UK) Ltd, Ranbaxy (UK) Ltd and Goldshield Group - have been bailed and the companies summonsed to appear in Bow Street Magistrates Court.

The case began some four years ago when police carried out a series of raids at businesses and homes following allegations of the conspiracy. The original investigation involved six firms, those listed above, plus Regent-GM Labs – which is now in liquidation. Then, in 2003, the National Health Service filed civil suits against seven firms - with the exception of Goldshield and adding Norton Pharmaceuticals and DDSA Pharmaceuticals to the list - claiming they attempted to fix the price of penicillin-based antibiotics, and seeking damages of £30 million.

Last year, Ranbaxy agreed - without admission of liability - to compensate the NHS to the tune of £4.5 million and was closely followed by Generics (UK) Ltd with a £12 million payment. And Norton Healthcare/Pharmaceuticals took their lead earlier this week by agreeing to a compensation sum of £13.5 million. Like Ranbaxy, neither Norton nor Generics (UK) Ltd have accepted any liability in the case and Goldshield issued a statement last week to the effect that it continues to maintain its two executives did not act in a way that was unlawful or improper. In a second statement yesterday, it said it is confident it will be acquitted of the charge.