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AstraZeneca's Marketing Probed

March 11, 2003|From Bloomberg News

AstraZeneca, Europe's second-biggest drug maker, said U.S. prosecutors and consumer protection officials are investigating its marketing of the ulcer drug Prilosec and its successor Nexium.

Prosecutors in Boston subpoenaed AstraZeneca documents about Prilosec from a medical center and a pharmacy benefits company, the drug maker said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The Federal Trade Commission also issued a demand for documents relating to the "advertising and marketing" of Nexium, another ulcer therapy, the SEC filing said.

Prilosec, once the world's best-selling prescription drug, is losing its exclusive marketing rights. In February 2001, AstraZeneca won U.S. regulatory approval to begin marketing Nexium, a purple pill advertised in magazines worldwide.

"AstraZeneca is cooperating with these investigations," the company said. "It is not possible to predict the outcome of any of these investigations, which could include the payment of damages and imposition of fines, penalties and administrative remedies."

Prosecutors sought documents about the promotion and sale of Prilosec to the New England Medical Center as well as service and purchase agreements with AdvancePCS, a pharmacy benefits company, the London-based drug maker said.

AstraZeneca said it also received requests for documents from state attorneys general in Massachusetts and Missouri. The Massachusetts investigators requested information about the "sale and promotion" of five products, including Prilosec. Missouri's attorney general sought information about "agreements with drug retailers" in the state, according to the SEC filing.

American depositary receipts, each representing one ordinary share, of AstraZeneca dropped $1.18 to $31.26 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

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