The European Commission finds that Servier committed a breach of competition over blood pressure drug

The High Court in London has ruled against attempts by French pharmaceutical giant Servier to limit damages for serious infringements of competition law in the sale and supply of a widely prescribed blood pressure drug.

The 109-page judgement, by Mr Justice Roth, is a key milestone in the 11-year dispute between Servier and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the wider NHS.

The European Commission and General Court found that Servier had committed a very serious breach of competition law, by agreeing with providers of generic alternatives to delay entering the market with less costly versions of the drug. This duly cost the NHS up to £250 million.

According to the judgement, Servier obtained and/or maintained the protection of the 947 Patent, until it was finally invalidated in the UK in July 2007, and by the EPO Board of Appeal in May 2009. As a result, the price of perindopril (brand name Coversyl) was much higher than it would have been if generic suppliers had entered the UK market.

The NHS Claimants are seeking, as damages, the difference between their expenditure at the price they paid and what they allege it would have been if the price had been determined under conditions of generic competition.

Despite this, Servier’s Amended Defence alleged that the NHS should have issued national guidance encouraging a switch from perindopril to the prescription of cheaper alternative ACEIs (ACE-Inhibitor) in generic form.

Jonathan Tickner, Head of Fraud and Commercial Disputes at specialist disputes law firm Peters & Peters and acting for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, remarked: “This is a major victory for the NHS. Having already lost hundreds of millions of pounds because of Servier’s unlawful behaviour, the NHS will now be able to avoid being dragged into further expensive and time-consuming arguments by the pharma company.”

“This is a relief at a time when most would agree the NHS is quite stretched enough,” he added.

The final judgement in the European proceedings is anticipated later this year and a full trial to determine the extent of the NHS’s losses will follow.