The European regulator has launched an antitrust investigation against Novartis and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to find out whether these two pharmaceutical companies colluded to keep a generic painkiller out of the Dutch market.
The European Commission (EC) is investigating whether the companies actions hindered the entry of generic versions of painkiller for chronic pain Fentanyl in the Netherlands.
"I regard this sector as a priority in terms of enforcement of competition rules given its importance for consumers and for governments' finances," said Joaquin Almunia, the EC commissioner.
"Pharmaceutical companies are already rewarded for their innovation efforts by the patents they are granted.
"Paying a competitor to stay out of the market is a restriction of competition that the commission will not tolerate," he said.
In 2008-2009 the EC carried out a broad competition inquiry into the pharmaceutical sector to probe whether pharmaceutical companies were behind the delay in the entry of generic medicines into the market after finding that such practices by pharmaceutical companies may have cost the European health systems as much as €3 billion ($4.1 billion) between 2000 and 2007.