On 8 October 2019, unannounced cartel inspections were conducted by the Belgian competition authority (BCA) at the premises of several pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. Swiss pharmaceuticals company Roche AS and the UZ Gent university hospital have confirmed that dawn raids have taken place at their premises.

The Belgian competition authority is concerned that the parties involved have violated Belgian and EU competition rules by limiting or restricting market access for producers of biosimilar medical products that are able to compete with existing (licensed) drugs. Such practices could entail a violation of the EU and Belgian cartel prohibition or constitute an abuse of a dominant position.

Biosimilar pharmaceutical products are drugs that have the same active properties as other licensed drugs. After the lapse of the license of the original pharmaceutical products, these biosimilar products are in principle free to enter the market and participate in tenders organized by Belgian hospitals. Such biosimilar drugs are more frequently used in other EU Member states and that biosimilar producers can compete more effectively in tenders in other countries than in Belgium. See a recent study on this: https://www.medicinesforeurope.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/20190903_Hospital-Reform-Study_final.pdf

Besides these dawn raids, several Belgian hospitals have received requests for information from the BCA to provide detailed information on their suppliers, contracts and communication with pharmaceutical companies in the timeframe between 2017-2019. In particular, the Belgian competition authority is focusing its investigation on two licensed medical products and the question whether or not multi-year supply contracts were concluded between the pharmaceutical companies and the hospitals just before the license expiry date thereof.

Unannounced inspections, so-called 'dawn raids', are a preliminary step in the investigation by the competition authority into restrictive competition practices. Carrying out inspections does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.

This investigation demonstrates, together with the two recent fines for competition law infringements by the association of pharmacists, that the pharma and healthcare sector is very high on the BCA’s enforcement agenda.