Italy seeks anti-trust compensation from Roche, Novartis, Pfizer

A security guard stands outside the Novartis headquarters building in Mumbai February 6, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

ROME (Reuters) - Italy said on Wednesday it was seeking more than a billion euros in damages from multinational drug companies following a ruling by the country's antitrust authority that their policies had been detrimental to Italy's national health service.

The health ministry said in a statement it was requesting a total 1.2 billion euros (957 million pounds) from Novartis and Roche for the damages incurred in 2012-2014, and was requesting 14 million euros from Pfizer.

It cited several recent antitrust rulings that the companies' repeated anti-competitive actions had caused the national health service "considerable damage".

In March, 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.

Italy's regulator said the two Basel-based firms had struck 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.

Roche and Novartis have both denied malpractice and have said they will appeal against the regulator's ruling.

Roche issued a statement on Wednesday saying it was surprised by the request for compensation and had not been informed of it directly by the health ministry, with whom it wanted to meet as soon as possible to clarify the situation.

It said the accusations against it were "groundless," that they were not supported by any court decision, and it described the size of the reported request for compensation as "unreal".

Italy's state council, the highest administrative court, in February ruled that Pfizer had abused its dominant position relating to the glaucoma drug Xalatan "with a clear and persistent intention to suppress competition".

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Andrew Roche and Keiron Henderson)