Guerbet Korea under investigation amid suspicions of refusal to sell medical contrast agent

18 October 2019 6:25pm
Pharma vials

14 October 2019. By Wooyoung Lee and Hyung-jo Choi.

The South Korean unit of French medical contrast agent manufacturer Guerbet is being investigated over an alleged refusal to sell the substance to South Korean drug suppliers, MLex has learned.

It is understood that, following a complaint, the Korea Fair Trade Commission is investigating the French pharmaceutical company for allegedly refusing to supply them with the contrast agent, named Lipiodol.

MLex understands that the regulator has also raided the company’s local office in Seoul.

The KFTC declined to comment on the matter.

A spokesperson for Guerbet Korea said that officials from the KFTC had recently visited the company's offices, but said it was unclear whether their on-site search was related to the Lipiodol distribution case.

Guerbet Korea has been accused of rejecting a request to buy Lipiodol, a radiopaque contrast agent used in the treatment of liver cancer patients, by a South Korean pharmaceuticals wholesaler.

MLex was told that the local pharma company won a tender for the supply of the agent to a pubic hospital in May and offered to purchase the agent from Guerbet Korea. However, Guerbet allegedly refused to supply it and told the wholesaler to purchase it from one of two other wholesale distributors with which it has long-standing trading relations.

The issue was raised by lawmaker Joo Ho-young of the Liberty Korea party during a parliamentary audit of the KFTC last week. Joo called the incident a violation of the Article 23 of the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act, which prohibits any act that unfairly restricts transactions or that discriminates against trading parties.

The lawmaker suspected that the reason for the alleged refusal to sell was to keep the price of the agent consistent, and said that such practices were commonplace in the pharmaceuticals sector.

The case bears a resemblance to one in which the KFTC imposed sanctions in 2013 on South Korean biopharma company Green Cross. The regulator handed Green Cross corrective orders over conduct involving the unfair rejection of a wholesaler’s request for the supply of Hepabig injections, used to treat hepatitis B immunoglobulin.

The KFTC revealed that Green Cross had refused to supply to wholesale distributor, citing supply shortages. That prompted the wholesaler to purchase the treatment from Green Cross’s long-term wholesale distributor at a higher price.