U.S. Markets closed

Sanofi Smear Campaign to Limit Plavix Competition

Ed Silverman

File this under 'Why didn't they know any better?' Four years ago, Sanofi (SNY) grew worried that a generic version of its best-selling Plavix blood thinner would gain attention from physicians and pharmacies in France. So the drugmaker embarked on an aggressive effort to dissuade these folks from showing any interest in the forthcoming competition. Sanofi, however, appears to have gone a bit too far, at least according to the Competition Authority, which has just issued a $52.7 million fine for a smear campaign that essentially denigrated generics.

How so? Sanofi reps made remarks not only casting doubt on the safety and efficacy of generic forms of Plavix "without relying on any proven fact," but also raised questions about potential liability that physicians and pharmacies may encounter if patients developed medical problems after using a generic. The Competition Authority included comments from physicians and pharmacists, in fact, to illustrate the extent to which Sanofi tried to convince them to stick with Plavix. The drugmaker "terrorized doctors" and "pharmacists cannot be fooled" by the tactics that were used, according to a translation.

The drugmaker, meanwhile, pushed its own generic version, which was called Clopidogrel Winthrop at the time and succeeded in establishing a market share of more than 34 percent in the generic clopidogrel market, a share of about four times greater than what Sanofi usually holds in the French generics market, according to the Competition Authority. And In 2008, France’s national health system paid 625 million euros for the drug, which was the most spent on any pharmaceutical. By 2010, generic Plavix represented 65 percent of the target market, instead of the 75 percent expected.

Sanofi, like other big pharma companies, has had a hard time of late generating revenue growth due to expiring patents on existing drugs and a failure by company labs to develop enough new medicines.

SNY Revenue TTM Chart

Teva (TEVA), a generics maker, complained to the Competition Authority.

To read the remainder of this article, go to Pharmalot.

Ed Silverman, a contributing editor of YCharts, is the founder and editor of Pharmalot. He previously reported on the pharmaceutical industry and other business topics for the Star-Ledger of New Jersey, New York Newsday and Investor’s Business Daily. He can be reached at editor@ycharts.com.

More From YCharts