(CN) - Abbott Laboratories and Fournier agreed to pay $22.5 million to 24 states to settle claims that the drug makers illegally blocked generic versions of the cholesterol-reducing drug TriCor.
"Abbott and Fournier devised a complex scheme that illegally blocked cheaper generic drugs from entering the market," California Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a statement. "They used minor reformulations of the drug to delay competition and filed frivolous patent lawsuits."
The states accused the drug companies of "product hopping," or blocking generic competition by making slight changes to the makeup of TriCor, which is used to reduce triglycerides, or fat, in the blood.
The two companies partnered to make and distribute TriCor in 1998. When TriCor's patents were about to expire in 2002, other drug companies started vying for Food and Drug Administration approval to make a generic version of the drug.
Abbott and French drug maker Fournier responded by making slight changes to the drug in form and dosage in order to discourage competitors from launching generic, less expensive versions of the drug, the states claimed.
The changes had no clinical benefits, Brown said, and only served to delay or throw off FDA approval.
Abbott and Fournier were also accused of filing frivolous patent infringement lawsuits against the generic drug companies Teva Pharmaceuticals and Impax Laboratories, taking advantage of a law requiring the FDA to delay approval of a generic drug for 30 months after a patent infringement suit has been filed. The lawsuits were eventually dismissed.
The drug makers allegedly raked in more than $1 billion in TriCor sales from the scheme, hurting states and consumers.
States slated to receive settlement funds include Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia.
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