At a glance: European ruling on Bayer parallel trading case

Must have missed this one. Can you sum the case up? German pharma group Bayer this month won its appeal against a 1996 European Commission ruling that condemned the company for limiting supplies of heart drug Adalat to wholesalers in France and Spain.

The commission said this practice amounted to an illegal deal with suppliers to reduce parallel trading. The court found there was no evidence of any such agreement and overturned a £2.1m fine picked up by Bayer at the time.

What is parallel trading?

It’s a situation in which a drug that’s on the market in one EU country is bought by someone who exports it to another. If there are significant differences in pricing between states, the trader has the chance of making a profit because cheaper medicines can be marked up.

But that just sounds like free trade.

Spot on, and it’s completely legal. But Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) director-general Trevor Jones warns that parallel trade is putting the search for new medicines at risk, and goes so far as to suggest that parallel trade leads to confusion and loss of patients’ trust, posing a thorny communications challenge for the pharma companies.

How does the ABPI work that out?

Because parallel traders have to repackage products. Putting stickers over the top of the original printing, or changing boxes altogether, might result in only names, batch numbers and expiry dates being in English, the ABPI claims. ‘At worst, patients become uncertain, worried as to whether they have been given the correct tablets and could miss doses or stop taking the course of treatment,’ Dr Jones adds.

So what’s the answer?

Tough one. The ABPI wants a kind of single market across Europe for pharma products, making costs uniform. But bear in mind that drug companies and the EU first started talking about a solution in 1996 and nothing’s changed yet. A real solution is still a distance away.

Further information Visit the ABPI website at www.abpi.org.uk

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