Pfizer Sued by Australian Regulator Over Generic Lipitor

Pfizer Inc.’s Australian unit was sued by the country’s competition regulator for misuse of market power relating to sales of its generic version of the Lipitor cholesterol drug.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it filed the lawsuit today in federal court in Sydney claiming Pfizer Australia Pty.’s deals with pharmacies in 2012 for the sale of atorvastatin breached competition rules. A copy of the filing wasn’t immediately available.

Patent protection on Lipitor, the biggest selling prescription drug in Australia under the federal drug plan, expired in May 2012. At the time Lipitor was prescribed to more than 1 million Australians with annual sales exceeding A$700 million ($625 million), according to the ACCC. Prior to the expiry Pfizer struck a deal with pharmacies, offering discounts and rebates on the condition they bought a minimum 12 months’ supply of atorvastatin, the generic equivalent, the ACCC said.

“Pfizer engaged in this conduct for the purpose of deterring or preventing competitors in the market for atorvastatin from engaging in competitive conduct,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement. “This case also raises an important public interest issue regarding the conduct of a patent holder nearing the expiry of that patent.”

Pfizer said in an e-mailed statement today it believes the offers made to the pharmacies were competitive. Since the matter is before the court, the company said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further.

The ACCC said it’s seeking pecuniary penalties and declarations, without specifying them.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled to be held on Mar. 18, the regulator said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.