Analysis to Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission has accepted for public comment agreements and proposed consent orders with Geneva Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Abbott Laboratories. The proposed consent orders settle charges that these parties unlawfully agreed that Geneva would refrain from selling its generic version of one of Abbott's drugs, in exchange for payments from Abbott. The proposed consent orders have been placed on the public record for 30 days to receive comments by interested persons. The proposed consent orders have been entered into for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission by Abbott or Geneva that they violated the law or that the facts alleged in the complaint, other than the jurisdictional facts, are true.

Background

Abbott Laboratories develops, manufactures, and sells a variety of health care products and services. Based in Abbott Park, Illinois, Abbott's 1998 net sales worldwide were approximately $ 12.5 billion. Over 20% of Abbott's net sales of pharmaceutical products in the U.S. are for a drug called Hytrin. Hytrin is used to treat two chronic conditions that affect millions of Americans, particularly senior citizens: hypertension (high blood pressure) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate).

Geneva is one of the leading generic drug manufacturers in the United States. An indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Novartis Corp., Geneva is based in Broomfield, Colorado. Geneva developed a generic version of Hytrin, and in March 1998 received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") to market that generic product.

A generic drug is a product that the FDA has found to be bioequivalent to a brand name drug. A company seeking FDA approval to market a new drug must file a New Drug Application ("NDA"). In order to market a generic version of a brand name drug, a company must file an Abbreviated New Drug Application ("ANDA") and receive approval from the FDA.

Generic drugs are chemically identical to their branded counterparts, but typically are sold at substantial discounts from the branded price. A Congressional Budget Office Report estimates that purchasers saved an estimated $8-$10 billion on prescriptions at retail pharmacies in 1994 by purchasing generic drugs instead of the brand name product.(1)

Congress enacted the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, commonly referred to as "the Hatch-Waxman Act," to facilitate the entry of generic drugs while maintaining incentives to invest in new drug development. In particular, the Hatch-Waxman Act establishes certain rights and procedures in situations where a company seeks FDA approval to market a generic product prior to the expiration of a patent or patents relating to a brand name drug upon which the generic is based. In such cases, the applicant must: (1) certify to the FDA that the patent in question is invalid or is not infringed by the generic product (known as a "paragraph IV certification"); and (2) notify the patent holder of the filing of the certification. If the holder of patent rights files a patent infringement suit within 45 days, FDA approval to market the generic drug is automatically stayed for 30 months, unless before that time the patent expires or is judicially determined to be invalid or not infringed. This automatic 30-month stay allows the patent holder time to seek judicial protection of its patent rights before a generic competitor is permitted to market its product.

In addition, the Hatch-Waxman Act provides an incentive for generic drug companies to bear the cost of patent litigation that may arise when they challenge invalid patents or design around valid ones. The Act grants the first company to file an ANDA in such cases a 180-day period during which it has the exclusive right to market a generic version of the brand name drug. No other generic manufacturer may obtain FDA approval to market its product until the first filer's 180-day exclusivity period has expired.

Geneva was the first company to file an ANDA for terazosin hydrochloride ("terazosin HCL"), the generic version of Hytrin. It filed applications covering a tablet form and a capsule form of its generic terazosin HCL. Geneva filed a paragraph IV certification with the FDA stating that these products did not infringe any valid patent held by Abbott covering terazosin HCL. In June 1996, Abbott sued Geneva for patent infringement by Geneva's terazosin HCL tablet product, but due to an oversight failed to make an infringement claim against Geneva's capsule product, although both products raised the same potential infringement issues.

Abbott's lawsuit triggered a 30-month stay of final FDA approval of Geneva's terazosin HCL tablet ANDA, until December 1998. No stay applied to the FDA approval process for Geneva's terazosin HCL capsule ANDA, however, because no infringement claim was filed within the statutory time period required by the Hatch-Waxman Act. The FDA granted Geneva final approval to market generic terazosin HCL capsules on March 30, 1998.

The Challenged Agreement

The complaint challenges an agreement whereby Abbott, following the FDA approval of Geneva's generic terazosin HCL capsule product, paid Geneva not to enter the market during their ongoing patent litigation over the tablet product. According to the complaint, on the day it was granted approval to market its generic terazosin HCL capsules, Geneva contacted Abbott and announced that it would launch its generic terazosin HCL capsules unless it was paid by Abbott not to enter. Two days later, on April 1, 1998, Abbott and Geneva entered into an agreement, pursuant to which Geneva agreed not to enter the market with any generic terazosin HCL capsule or tablet product until the earlier of: (1) the final resolution of the patent infringement litigation involving Geneva's terazosin HCL tablets product, including review through the Supreme Court; or (2) entry of another generic terazosin HCL product.

Geneva also agreed - at Abbott's insistence - not to transfer, assign, or relinquish its 180-day exclusivity right. The effect of this provision was to ensure that no other company's generic terazosin HCL product could obtain FDA approval and enter the market during the term of the agreement, because Geneva's agreement not to launch its product meant that the 180-day exclusivity period would not expire.

In exchange, Abbott agreed to pay Geneva $4.5 million per month until a district court judgment in the parties' patent infringement dispute, and then (assuming Geneva won in the district court) to pay the $4.5 million monthly payments into an escrow fund until the final resolution of the litigation, which Geneva would then receive if its district court victory was upheld.

Abbott's payment to Geneva of $4.5 million a month was well over the $1 to $1.5 million per month that, the complaint states, Abbott believed Geneva would forego by staying off the market. The complaint alleges that Abbott was willing to pay Geneva a "premium" to refrain from competing because of the substantial impact that launch of a generic version of Hytrin would have on Abbott's overall financial situation. Abbott forecasted that entry of generic terazosin HCL on April 1, 1998 would eliminate over $185 million in Hytrin sales in just six months. Accordingly, the complaint charges, Abbott sought to forestall Geneva -- and all other potential generic competition to Hytrin - from entering the market because of the threat they represented to the high profits it was making from Hytrin.

The complaint further charges that, in accordance with the terms of the agreement, Geneva did not enter the market with its generic terazosin HCL capsules, even after the district court and the court of appeals upheld Geneva's position that Abbott's patent was invalid. In August 1999, Abbott and Geneva - aware of the Commission's investigation - terminated their agreement (which by its terms would not have ended until disposition of the litigation by the Supreme Court). Geneva finally brought its generic terazosin HCL capsule product to market on August 13, 1999.

Competitive Analysis

The complaint charges that the challenged agreement prevented competition that Abbott's Hytrin product would otherwise have faced from generic products of Geneva and other potential generic competitors. Generic drugs can have a swift marketplace impact, because pharmacists generally are permitted, and in some instances are required, to substitute lower-priced generic drugs for their branded counterparts, unless the prescribing physician directs otherwise. In addition, there is a ready market for generic products because certain third-party payers of prescription drugs (e.g., state Medicaid programs and many private health plans) encourage or insist on the use of generic drugs wherever possible. Abbott's forecasts, the complaint states, projected that generic terazosin HCL would capture roughly 70% of Hytrin sales within the first six months following its launch. The agreement, however, ensured that Geneva would not offer generic terazosin HCL in competition with Hytrin, and would not take action - such as relinquishing exclusivity rights - that would have permitted the entry of any other generic manufacturer.

These restraints on generic competition had direct and substantial effects on consumers. Without a lower-priced generic alternative, consumers, government agencies, health plans, pharmacies, hospitals, wholesalers, and others were forced to purchase Abbott's more expensive Hytrin product. Other drugs, the complaint states, are not effective substitutes for terazosin HCL because they are different in terms of chemical composition, safety, efficacy, and side effects. There is little price sensitivity between terazosin HCL and other products. Thus, the complaint alleges that the sale of terazosin HCL in the United States is the relevant market within which to assess the effects of the challenged agreement.

The challenged conduct represents an agreement not to compete between potential horizontal competitors. A firm is a potential competitor if there is evidence that entry by that firm is reasonably probable in the absence of the agreement at issue.(2) Geneva certified to the FDA that its entry with generic HCL would not infringe a valid patent, and was confident that it ultimately would prevail in its patent infringement dispute with Abbott, the complaint states. In early 1998, Geneva was making preparations to launch its generic terazosin HCL capsule product as soon as possible. After receiving FDA approval for the capsule product, Geneva threatened to launch that product unless Abbott paid it not to do so. The challenged agreement directly restrained competition between these potential competitors.

In addition, the agreement created a bottleneck that prevented any other potential competitors from entering the market, because no other ANDA filer could obtain FDA approval until Geneva's 180 day exclusivity period expired. Other companies were developing generic terazosin HCL products, and at least one other generic manufacturer had satisfied the FDA's requirements for approval by February 1999, but was barred from entering the market because Geneva's failure to launch its product meant its 180-day exclusivity right had not even begun to run.

The complaint states that the challenged agreement is not justified by any countervailing efficiency. Although the agreement between Abbott and Geneva provided substantial private benefits to both parties, the facts in this matter demonstrate that the broad restraints were not justified by any benefits to competition and consumer welfare. The Commission considered whether the agreement could be considered a procompetitive effort to effectuate a temporary settlement of a patent dispute, akin to a court-ordered preliminary injunction. However, it finds that any legitimate interest in resolving patent disputes cannot justify the harm to consumers imposed by the agreement in this case. The restraint imposed exceeds what likely would be available to the parties under a court-ordered preliminary injunction. For example, it: (1) barred Geneva's entry beyond the pendency of the district court litigation; (2) provided large up-front payments that could be expected to create disincentives for Geneva to enter (in contrast to a court-ordered bond to cover damages actually incurred as a result of the court's injunction); (3) barred Geneva from relinquishing its exclusivity rights; (4) prohibited Geneva from developing or marketing non-infringing generic products. Moreover, the restraints contained in the agreement were entered into without any judicial finding that Abbott was likely to succeed on the merits of its infringement suit, without any consideration of whether Abbott would suffer irreparable injury, and without any weighing of the equities, including any consideration of the public interest.

The complaint also charges that Abbott had a monopoly in the market for terazosin HCL, and, by entering into the agreement with Geneva, Abbott sought to preserve its dominance by delaying the entry of Geneva and other generic companies into the market. As detailed above, there were no countervailing justifications for Abbott's conduct. In addition, the complaint alleges that Abbott and Geneva conspired to monopolize the market for terazosin HCL. As stated in the complaint, Abbott and Geneva acted with specific intent that Abbott monopolize the market for terazosin HCL, and entered into a conspiracy to achieve that goal. Finally, the parties' agreement otherwise amounts to an unfair method of competition in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The Proposed Orders

The proposed orders are designed to remedy the unlawful conduct charged in the complaint. Although the particular agreement challenged in the complaint has been terminated, prospective relief is necessary to prevent a recurrence of similar agreements with respect to other drugs. Private agreements in which the brand name drug company (the NDA holder) pays the first generic to seek FDA approval (the first filer) not to enter the market can substantially delay generic competition and raise serious antitrust issues. Moreover, the FDA, which has expressed concern about such private agreements, has observed that the incentives for companies to enter into such arrangements are becoming greater, as the returns to the brand name company from extending its monopoly increasingly exceed the potential economic gains to the generic applicant from its 180 days of market exclusivity.(3)

In essence, the proposed orders:

  • bar two particular types of agreements between brand name drug companies and potential generic competitors -- restrictions on giving up Hatch-Waxman 180-day exclusivity rights and on entering the market with a non-infringing product;
  • require that agreements involving payments to the generic company to stay off the market be approved by the court when undertaken in the context of an interim settlement of patent litigation, with notice to the Commission to allow it time to present its views to the court;
  • require respondents to give the Commission written notice 30 days before entering into such agreements in other contexts; and
  • require that Geneva waive its right to 180-day marketing exclusivity for its generic terazosin HCL tablet product, so that other generic tablet producers can immediately enter the market.

Paragraph II prohibits two kinds of agreements between "an NDA Holder" and "the ANDA First Filer" (that is, the party possessing an unexpired right to Hatch-Waxman 180-day exclusivity). Paragraph II.A. bars agreements in which the first company to file an ANDA agrees with the NDA holder not to relinquish its right to the 180-day exclusivity period established under the Hatch-Waxman Act. Paragraph II.B. prohibits the ANDA first filer from agreeing not to develop or market a generic drug product that is not the subject of a patent infringement lawsuit. The order prohibits restrictions on giving up exclusivity rights and on competing with a non-infringing product because under the circumstances of this case these restraints are not justified.

Paragraph II's focus on agreements between an NDA holder and the ANDA first filer does not mean that the Commission believes that there is no risk of competitive harm in other contexts. In particular, Abbott or Geneva's participation in an agreement in which a generic company that is not the ANDA first filer is paid by the NDA holder not to market a non-infringing product could raise substantial competitive concerns. Given the variety of circumstances in which the restraints may arise, however, and the possibility that some legitimate justifications might exist in some other contexts, the Commission believes that it is appropriate at this time to limit the flat bans in Paragraph II to agreements between NDA holders and ANDA first filers.

Paragraph III bans private agreements involving payments to keep a generic drug off the market during patent infringement litigation brought by an NDA holder. Abbott and Geneva can enter into such arrangements only if (a) they are presented to the court and embodied in a court-ordered preliminary injunction, and (b) the following other conditions are met: (i) along with any stipulation for preliminary injunction, they provide the court with a copy of the Commission's complaint, order, and this Analysis to Aid Public Comment in this matter, as well as the proposed agreement between the parties; (ii) at least 30 days before submitting the stipulation to the court, they provide written notice to the Commission; and (iii) they do not oppose Commission participation in the court's consideration of the request for preliminary relief.

Thus, the proposed orders bar agreements made in the context of an interim settlement of a patent infringement action, whereby the NDA holder pays the generic not to enter the market, unless the parties obtain court approval through a process that is designed to enhance the court's ability to assess the competitive implications of the agreement. This remedy, in addition to facilitating the court's access to information about the Commission's views, also makes the process public and thereby may prompt other generic drug manufacturers (or other interested parties) to alert the court to potential anticompetitive provisions that could delay their entry into the market. Furthermore, the Commission believes that the requirement that the agreement be filed on the public record with the court will deter Abbott and Geneva from entering into anticompetitive agreements.

Paragraph IV addresses certain agreements to stay off the market that are not covered by Paragraph III because they do not involve interim relief in a litigated matter. Such situations would include agreements that are part of a final settlement of the litigation, and situations in which no litigation has been brought. In these circumstances, there is no judicial role in ordering relief agreed to by the parties. The Commission is concerned about such private agreements in which the first filer is paid by the NDA holder not to enter the market, because of the substantial risk of competitive harm that they may create. Thus, the order requires that Abbott and Geneva notify the Commission 30 days before entering into an agreement in which an ANDA first filer agrees with an NDA holder to refrain from going to market. Such notice will assist the Commission in detecting anticompetitive agreements before they have caused substantial injury to consumers. Absent the order, there is no mechanism for the antitrust enforcement agencies to find out about such agreements.

The form of notice that Abbott and Geneva must provide to the Commission under Paragraphs III and IV of the orders is set forth in Paragraph V. In addition to supplying a copy of the proposed agreement, they are required to provide certain other information to assist the Commission in assessing the potential competitive impact of the agreement. Accordingly, the orders require them to identify, among other things, all others who have filed an ANDA for a product containing the same chemical entities as the product at issue, and the court that is hearing any relevant legal proceedings involving either party. In addition, they must provide the Commission with all documents that evaluate the proposed agreement.

In addition, the proposed order against Geneva requires that it waive its 180-day marketing exclusivity period for its generic terazosin HCL tablet product. Although Geneva's exclusivity right with respect to the terazosin capsules product has expired, its exclusivity period for the tablet product still remains as a barrier to entry. This provision of the order will therefore open the market to greater generic competition in terazosin HCL products.

The proposed orders also contain certain reporting and other provisions that are designed to assist the Commission in monitoring compliance with the order and are standard provisions in Commission orders.

The orders will expire in 10 years.

Opportunity for Public Comment

The proposed orders have been placed on the public record for 30 days in order to receive comments from interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After 30 days, the Commission will again review the agreements and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreements or make the proposed orders final.

The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the agreements. The analysis is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreements, the proposed complaint, or the proposed consent orders, or to modify their terms in any way.


1. Congressional Budget Office, How Increased Competition from Generic Drugs Has Affected Prices and Returns in the Pharmaceutical Industry at xiii, 13 (July 1998).

2. Federal Trade Commission and United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Guidelines for the Licensing of Intellectual Property at  1.1 n.6 (1995).

3. FDA Proposed Rule Regarding 180-Day Generic Drug Exclusivity for Abbreviated New Drug Applications, 64 Fed.Reg. 42873, 42882-83 (August 6, 1999).