Novartis probed by Swiss authorities over 'unlawful' patent use

Novartis HQ

The competition authorities in Switzerland said this morning they have carried out a raid on a pharma company – now confirmed to be Novartis – as part of an investigation into a "possible unlawful use of a patent to reduce competitive pressure."

The Swiss Competition Commission (COMCO) arrived unexpectedly at Novartis at dawn on Tuesday morning, to gather information on an unidentified dermatology drug, as part of a wider investigation into the drugmaker by the European Commission.

In a statement, the regulator says that Novartis "allegedly attempted to protect its drug for the treatment of skin diseases against competing products by using one of its patents to initiate litigation proceedings."

While the identity of the drug isn't being revealed, there are a number of possible candidates including Cosentyx (secukinumab) for the treatment of moderate-to-severe psoriasis and Xolair (omalizumab) for the treatment of chronic spontaneous urticaria.

The probe appears to centre on the use of so-called blocking patents, which can be used to prevent the entry of a competing product into the market. It is notoriously difficult to prove abuse of a dominant position in the market in these cases, so it could be a long time before the investigation yields a judgement.

Novartis said in a statement that the opening of an investigation "does not imply any finding of wrongdoing or any financial impact," and told the Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung that it "assumes that the investigation is not directly related to a Novartis product, but deals with the question of whether Novartis acted appropriately when using a patent."

It also said it is "fully cooperating with the authorities and is confident to clarify the legitimacy of its position. As this is an ongoing investigation in its early stages, we will not comment further at this point in time."

COMCO is pursuing its investigation in the context of the Swiss Cartel Act (CartA), currently undergoing a revision with new rules on antitrust claims that is in the consultation phase and could come into force in 2023/24.

15 September, 2022