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Drug Incentives Comply With EU Law, Court Says

(CN) - A British health care policy encouraging doctors to prescribe generic medicines is compatible with a European Union law aimed at preventing drug companies from influencing doctors, Europe's top court ruled Thursday.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry challenged financial incentives in England and Whales for doctors who prescribe cheaper versions of prescription drugs. The measures are intended to check the high cost of prescription drugs to the state-run health care system.

The conflict centered mainly on statins, prescription medication used to lower cholesterol for people at risk of heart disease. An unpatented and therefore cheaper statin may have a slightly different chemical structure than a name-brand drug, and though it produces the same results, could have different side effects.

The Court of Justice ruled that the incentives are compative with an EU directive barring doctors from promoting specific medication, because public health authorities have no profit-making or commercial motives in providing the incentives.

The public health authorities can rationalize this public expense, the court ruled, and so long as the policies are constantly being reviewed, they represent no danger to public health.

But the health care system must provide objective criteria proving that national products are not being preferred and must make data on therapeutic equivalence available, the Luxembourg-based court concluded.

The ruling is a blow to pharmaceutical companies, especially as drug patents have expired, creating a booming generic market.

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