FTC Seeks to Block Amgen-Horizon Merger

17.05.2023 - Calling the deal announced late last year an alarming sign for biopharma, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is seeking to block the closing of Amgen’s proposed $28 billion acquisition of Horizon Therapeutics with a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

With the takeover of Ireland-domiciled Horizon, a deal that includes debt, California-based Amgen stands to boost its portfolio of drugs for rare autoimmune and inflammatory disease.

News agency reports say the antitrust challenge, backed by progressive Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, marks the first time that the FTC’S reviews have been extended beyond specific product overlaps and focused on companies’ past behaviors around drug pricing.

In a statement, the regulatory authority said Amgen could leverage its existing product portfolio to “entrench the monopoly positions” of Horizon’s drugs for thyroid eye disease and chronic gout — a process known as bundling. This would allow the pharma giant to pressure insurers and pharmacy benefit managers into accepting high prices.

“Rampant consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry has given powerful companies a pass to exorbitantly hike prescription drug prices, deny patients access to more affordable generics and hamstring innovation in life-saving markets,” FTC Competition Bureau Director Holly Vedova said, echoing an accusation hurled earlier by Warren.

“The FTC won’t hesitate to challenge mergers that enable pharmaceutical conglomerates to entrench their monopolies at the expense of consumers and fair competition,” Vedova added.

Amgen, nevertheless said it “remains committed” to completing the acquisition, calling expectations that the drugmaker might offer a multi-product discount at some point in the future “entirely speculative” and unreflective of “real world competitive dynamics.”

While the two drugmakers do have product overlaps for specific pipeline candidates, analysts said they have “no commercial muscle” in those areas. Amgen, however, “has a history of leveraging its broad portfolio of blockbuster drugs to gain advantages over potential rivals,” the FTC asserts.

Healthcare, in particular high US drug prices, has been a prime focus for the FTC under President Joe Biden. In 2021, the agency said it would rethink its approach to pharmaceutical mergers.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist