February 22, 2019 / 6:07 PM / a year ago

U.S. closes IV solution shortage antitrust probe, Baxter says

(Reuters) - Baxter International Inc said the U.S. Justice Department has closed an antitrust probe examining possible communication among producers of intravenous saline solutions during supply shortages that created higher prices.

Baxter, which received a grand jury subpoena in 2017 as part of the investigation, said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday that the department informed it on Nov. 30 of its decision to end the probe.

Other companies that in April 2017 disclosed receiving subpoenas as part of the investigation included Pfizer Inc and ICU Medical Inc, which earlier that year had acquired Pfizer’s global infusion therapy business.

Those companies have said the New York attorney general has also sought records regarding business practices in the IV saline industry. Baxter in its SEC filing said it is cooperating with that investigation.

Baxter, Pfizer, ICU Medical and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The Justice Department’s probe came amid a shortage of IV solutions that dated back to late 2013, when producers began notifying hospitals they might experience delivery delays.

The solutions are among the most basic, commonly used hospital supplies needed to hydrate patients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January 2014 added the solutions to its drug shortage list, at the time saying the shortage was triggered by factors including increased hospital demand, potentially related to flu season.

In 2015, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators asked the Federal Trade Commission to probe three companies they said supplied all the saline solution used in the United States - Baxter, Hospira Inc and B. Braun.

Pfizer acquired Hospira in 2015. In 2017, Pfizer sold the global infusion therapy business, Hospira Infusion Systems, to ICU Medical.

In the letter, senators including U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat now running for president, said that since the shortage had begun, prices had risen by 200 percent to 300 percent.

In April 2017, Baxter disclosed an employee had received a subpoena issued by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It sought documents and testimony about the manufacturing, selling, pricing and shortages of IV solutions and communications with competitors, Baxter said.

Baxter and Hospira also face a proposed class action lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to fix prices for IV solutions. That lawsuit remains pending in federal court in Chicago.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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