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Alchem accused of pharma price fixing by EU watchdog

FILE PHOTO: EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager speaks at a news conference in Brussels

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -EU antitrust regulators has accused Indian drugmaker Alchem International of taking part in a pharmaceutical cartel to fix prices of a key ingredient, which could lead to a hefty fine for the company.

The European Commission, which acts as the EU competition watchdog, said it had sent a statement of objections to Alchem, laying out its charges.

The Commission suspects Alchem of breaching EU antitrust rules by participating in a cartel with other drugmakers involving the ingredient N-Butylbromide Scopolamine/Hyoscine (SNBB), which is used to make the abdominal antispasmodic drug Buscopan and its generic version.

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The watchdog said Alchem and other cartel members coordinated to fix the minimum sales price and to allocate quotas, adding that it may also have exchanged commercially sensitive information with competitors.

"As a result, European consumers may have suffered from restricted access to affordable medicines," EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

Alchem representatives in India and Switzerland did not respond immediately to emailed requests for comment.

The Commission last year fined Alkaloids of Australia, Alkaloids Corporation, Boehringer, Linnea and Transo-Pharm a total of 13.4 million euros ($14.5 million) for their involvement in the cartel.

C2 PHARMA escaped a fine because it had alerted the regulator about the cartel.

Companies found guilty of EU antitrust violations risk fines as much as 10% of their global annual turnover.

($1 = 0.9256 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun CheeEditing by David Goodman)