By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare Holdings warded off a possible hefty EU antitrust fine after regulators accepted the pharceutical company's offer to cut cancer drug prices in Europe by about two-thirds in a landmark case aimed at deterring excessive prices.
The European Commission has in the last decade cracked down on the pharmaceutical industry for pay-for-delay deals between brand name companies and their generic rivals while shying away from excessive pricing cases.
The Commission decision confirmed a Reuters report on Feb. 3.
Aspen last year offered to cut prices by an average of 73% for six off-patent cancer drugs after the EU executive voiced concerns it may have charged excessive prices for drugs mainly used in the treatment of leukaemia and other haematological cancers.
The competition enforcer said there were no legitimate reasons for Aspen's very high profit levels especially when the drugs used to treat certain serious forms of blood cancer, including myeloma and leukaemia, had been off-patents for 50 years.
"Today's decision gives a strong signal to other dominant pharmaceutical companies not to engage in abusive pricing practices to exploit our health systems," European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
The reduced prices will also act as a cap for 10 years, retroactive to October 2019. Aspen will guarantee supplies for five years and will also continue to supply or make its marketing authorisation to other suppliers for an additional five years.
The pledge is valid for 10 years. Aspen could have faced a fine of up to 10% of its global turnover on top of a finding of wrongdoing if found guilty of breaching EU rules.
Aspen's offer does not apply to Italy, which earlier had its own case against the company.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee)