Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wacky World of Generics: Painful Historical Parallels Edition

New details about a pending Justice Department investigation of Ranbaxy recall some painful memories from veterans of the generic drug scandal in the US at the end of the 1980s.

It is amazing to think—at a time when generic drugs are the political golden child, everybody’s favorite starting point for reining in costs, and everybody’s hope for controlling spending on biologics—that it was just two decades ago that generic drugs were perceived as inherently suspect. Company after company was accused of fraud, and dozens of products were withdrawn from the market.

So no one in the generic sector wants to read that the government is alleging “systematic fraudulent conduct” on Ranbaxy’s part.

Ranbaxy, of course, wants to read that least of all—certainly not while a $4.6 billion merger with Daiichi Sankyo is pending. (PharmAsia News has all the details on what is known about the investigation, and the speculation that it might affect the pending merger of the two companies.)

The companies say the deal is not in jeopardy. The bottom line for proceeding: Ranbaxy says the scope of the investigation is fully understood by Daiichi and the risks to the business as a whole aren’t worth worrying too much about.

Daiichi better hope so.

The alternative is not pretty. The downside risk may best by captured by considering what happened to Fujisawa went it bought out Lyphomed in 1989. The transaction came after a Lyphomed faced a round of manufacturing compliance issues that had seemingly been resolved.

The deal was a disaster on every level for Fujisawa. It turned out that FDA wasn’t done with Lyphomed by a long shot, not as the full extent of issues related to fraud in the generic drug sector started to come to light.

How big a disaster? Well, Fujisawa paid about $1 billion to buy Lyphomed, and ended up writing off $575 million when it finally unloaded the business in 1998. (The buyer? APP, which is being acquired itself a decade later.) Fujisawa spent millions cleaning up the business along the way, including withdrawing many products it acquired because of questions about potential fraud in the applications. Worst of all, Fujisawa’s own products were held up as a result of FDA’s concerns, putting its relationship with Medco Research for Adenoscan in jeopardy.

And strategically, it certainly didn’t help Fujisawa achieve its primary goal of building in the US. Fujisawa has since merged with Yamanouchi, and the new company—Astellas—is still working on that goal.

Painting by Renee Dixon

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