March 14, 2014 / 2:54 PM / 4 years ago

Italian prosecutors open probe against Roche, Novartis

ROME (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Rome have opened an investigation into four executives at Swiss drugmakers Roche ROG.VX and Novartis NOVN.VX on suspicion of fraud and manipulation of the pharmaceutical market, judicial sources said on Friday.

The logo of Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche is seen outside their headquarters in Basel January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

The sources did not name the managers.

Earlier this month, Italy’s antitrust authority said Roche and Novartis colluded to try to stop cancer drug Avastin from being used to treat a serious eye disease and fined the companies 182.5 million euros (£153 million).

Italy’s regulator accused the two Basel-based firms of striking an alliance to prevent distribution of Roche’s Avastin as a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in favour of the more expensive drug Lucentis made by Novartis.

A Novartis spokesman had no immediate comment on Friday, while a Roche spokesman referred to the company statement issued after the antitrust ruling that called the charges “unfounded” and said it would appeal.

Novartis has also strongly denied the regulatory decision and pledged to appeal.

Reporting by Mario Sarzanini in Rome and Caroline Copely in Zurich; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Erica Billingham

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