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Originally published Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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FTC accuses firm of drug monopoly

Antitrust enforcers accused Ovation Pharmaceuticals of cornering the U.S. market on a drug for a congenital heart defect in premature infants and asked a court to break up the company's monopoly on the medication.

Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Antitrust enforcers accused Ovation Pharmaceuticals of cornering the U.S. market on a drug for a congenital heart defect in premature infants and asked a court to break up the company's monopoly on the medication.

Ovation imposed a 1,300 percent price increase for the drug Indocin IV soon after it acquired the U.S. rights to NeoProfen, the only other drug used to treat the potentially fatal defect, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on Tuesday. The failure of a blood vessel in the heart to close after birth is found in more than 30,000 premature infants each year in the United States, the FTC said.

The agency sued in federal court in Minnesota to force privately held Ovation to sell one of the drugs and repay to purchasers "all unlawfully obtained profits" from the drug monopoly dating to 2006.

An Ovation official said the company "strongly disputes the claims in the complaint" and "welcomes the opportunity to demonstrate in court" that the FTC's case is "without merit."

Ovation, based in Deerfield, Ill., purchased the rights to Indocin from Merck in August 2005. The FTC said Ovation then bought the rights to NeoProfen from Abbott Laboratories in January 2006.

As soon as it acquired NeoProfen, Ovation raised the $36 price it had been charging hospitals for each vial of Indocin to about $500, the FTC alleged in its complaint. Ovation set a price of $483 a vial for NeoProfen when it started selling the drug in July 2006, the FTC said.

The two drugs are the only alternative to risky surgery to treat a condition known as patent ductus arteriosus in which a blood vessel connecting two heart arteries fails to close.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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