By Diane Bartz
(Reuters) - A group of attorneys general from U.S. states and territories sued 26 manufacturers of dermatology drugs on Wednesday, accusing them of price fixing and other violations of antitrust law, the third such lawsuit since 2016.
This lawsuit focuses on 80 topical generic drugs, including creams, gels and ointments, which have billions in dollars of U.S. sales. It accuses Novartis unit Sandoz, Teva generic unit Actavis, Mylan Inc, Pfizer and other companies of breaking antitrust law by dividing up markets and rigging bids, according to statements from the attorneys general.
The group is made up of attorneys general from 46 states, the District of Columbia and four territories.
"Through phone calls, text messages, emails, corporate conventions, and cozy dinner parties, generic pharmaceutical executives were in constant communication, colluding to fix prices and restrain competition as though it were a standard course of business," Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. "They took steps to evade accountability, using code words and warning each other to avoid email and detection."
Novartis, which owns Sandoz, said it already settled with the U.S. Justice Department over "misconduct" and would defend itself from the lawsuit.
"The individual instances of misconduct at the core of the resolution we reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in March do not support the vast, systemic conspiracy the states allege," Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff said in a statement.
Teva unit Actavis, Mylan Inc and Pfizer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Groups of state attorneys general filed lawsuits regarding generic drug prices in 2016 and 2019. These lawsuits are pending.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by Ankur Banerjee, Jon Stempel and Caroline Humer; Editing by David Gregorio)