European Commission Issues Second Competition Comfort Letter in Support of Pharmaceutical Cooperation to Combat Covid-19
On Monday 29 March 2021, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition (the Commission) published its second “new style” comfort letter (see, attachment). It was addressed to the organisers of an online “matchmaking event” that runs on 29 and 31 March 2021 and brings together more than 300 parties involved in the production and supply of Covid-19 vaccines (the event is described in the Commission press release in the second attached PDF document). The event seeks to accelerate connections between vaccine producers and service companies such as contract development and manufacturing organisations, fill and finish service providers, equipment producers and others, to improve planning for current and future vaccine production in Europe. The ultimate goal is to address shortages and increase production capacity along the entire value chain for Covid-19 vaccines.
The comfort letter offers both event organisers and participants the assurance that they can proceed without fear that their conduct may fall foul of the competition rules. The concern common to both event organisers and the Commission is the exchange of confidential business information, regardless of whether the parties involved are direct competitors. This is why, in issuing the comfort letter, the Commission imposed several conditions which the parties will have to observe.
Accordingly, all event participants will have to limit the exchange of confidential business information to what is indispensable for resolving the supply challenges linked to Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, if matchmaking meetings involve direct competitors, participants will be precluded from sharing confidential business information regarding their competing products, including information relating to prices, discounts, costs, sales, commercial strategies, expansion plans and investments, and customer lists. These direct competitors will also have to maintain a record of the topics discussed.
The new comfort letter follows an earlier such letter which the Commission addressed in April 2020 to “Medicines for Europe” (MfE), a trade association of suppliers of generic and biosimilar medicines. The Commission thus offered support to the MfE’s collective response to the risk of medicine shortages caused by a surging demand for specific COVID-19 hospital medicines (see, Van Bael & Bellis Life Sciences News Alert of 29 April 2020). Both comfort letters apply the principles contained in the Commission’s Temporary Framework to assess under the competition rules possible forms of business cooperation in response to the emergency situation created by the COVID-19 outbreak (see, Van Bael & Bellis Life Sciences News Alert of 9 April 2020). The forms of cooperation which the Commission aims to facilitate mainly concern the life sciences sector.
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