Aspen pricing probe rattles pharma industry

The first ever EU antitrust probe into excessive drug pricing is taking the European pharmaceuticals industry into uncharted territory, with companies and lawyers worried about the reach of market intervention.

The European Commission's investigation of whether  Aspen Pharmacare made "unjustified" increases of up to several hundred per cent in the cost of five old cancer drugs could lead to stricter oversight of drug prices.

"Normally, in Europe, drug companies just have to negotiate with a national regulator on pricing. Now there is the prospect of additional European-level oversight and that is scary for the industry," says Gianni De Stefano at law firm Hogan Lovells.

South Africa-based Aspen, which says it is committed to fair and open competition, could be fined up to 10% of its global turnover, or some $US290 million, if found guilty by EU antitrust regulators.