By Francois Aulner
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Danish drugmaker Lundbeck <LUN.CO> lost an appeal against a European Union antitrust fine on Thursday when a court ruled its payments to rivals to delay sales of generic copies of a blockbuster anti-depressant were anti-competitive.
Lundbeck shares fell as much as 3 percent to 263 Danish crowns after the verdict by the Luxembourg-based General Court and were 0.7 percent lower at 269 Danish crowns at 1432 GMT.
The ruling followed an appeal by Lundbeck and five other generic drugmakers against a 2013 decision by the European Commission that their "pay-for-delay" deals breached EU rules.
The companies were fined a combined 146 million euros ($165 million), 93.7 million euros of which was levied on Lundbeck in relation to its citalopram anti-depressant.
The General Court of the European Union said in its ruling that it dismissed Lundbeck's action in its entirety and that the agreements had restricted potential competition.
The company said it was disappointed and would study the verdict before deciding whether to appeal to the top court. It had already booked its fine as a cost in 2013, saying there would be no impact on its 2016 financial forecasts.
Lundbeck's case, among several before the EU courts, has been closely watched by the drugs industry, which is seeking to preserve a longstanding business practice opposed by regulators on both sides of the Atlantic.
The pharmaceutical industry says pay-for-delay deals prevent costly and lengthy litigation. Others appealing the EU decision were Merck KGaA, Generics (UK), Arrow Group, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries <SUN.NS>, Xellia Pharmaceuticals and Alpharma.
Merck said it would consider an appeal against the latest decision.
The Commission welcomed the court's decision.
The Commission's cases came in the wake of an inquiry into the sector in 2008-2009. Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries <TEVA.TA> and France's Servier have also challenged the EU decisions and fines in separate but similar cases.
In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such deals could potentially be a violation of antitrust law, although it refused a Federal Trade Commission request to declare them to be presumed to be illegal. Since then, branded drug companies have struck far fewer such deals with generic drugmakers.
The cases are T-472/13 Lundbeck v Commission, T-471/13, T-471/13, T-469/13, T-467/13 and T-467/13.
($1 = 0.8845 euros)
(Additional reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen in Copenhagen; Writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Alexander Smith)