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The European Union’s top court set criteria on Thursday (30 January) to resolve a dispute in Britain over deals GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) struck with rival drugmakers to delay the launch of generic drugs.

The court said these deals in themselves do not constitute a breach of competition rules but their impact needed to be assessed because they could harm competition.

The case will now go back to the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal for a final judgment on the appeals.

The ruling follows a reference to the EU court by the tribunal on a decision imposed by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on various manufacturers of generic medicines and GSK.

In 2016 the CMA found that GSK had agreed to pay over £50 million to other generic suppliers of an antidepressant medicine paroxetine. The CMA contended that these payments were aimed at delaying the potential entry of competitors into the UK market.

Consequently, the regulator imposed fines of £45 million on the companies involved.

The CMA welcomed the ruling and said it has clarified a number of important questions and will help competition authorities in their work.

“This case shows our ongoing determination to take action against illegal behaviour by drug companies designed to stifle competition at the expense of the NHS. This has been a lengthy process, and we look forward to the CAT’s final judgment,” Andrea Coscelli, chief executive at the CMA, added.

Appeals against the CMA’s decision were brought by GSK, Generics (UK) Limited, Xellia Pharmaceuticals APS/Alpharma LLC, Actavis UK Limited and Merck KGAA.

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