ROME (Reuters) - The local heads of Swiss drugmakers Roche <ROG.S> and Novartis <NOVN.S> risk facing trial in Italy for alleged market manipulation, judicial sources said on Friday.
Prosecutors in Rome have been looking into charges the two companies colluded to discredit eye disease drug Avastin by emphasizing its potential side effects in order to boost sales of Lucentis, a more expensive alternative which offers similar treatment.
Both Avastin and Lucentis are manufactured by Roche but Lucentis is marketed by Novartis outside the United States. The two companies were fined 180 million euros ($211 million) in 2014 by Italy's antitrust authorities for hindering the use of Avastin.
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The inquiry targeted Roche's Maurizio de Cicco and Novartis' George Schrockn Fuchs as the legal representatives of the two companies in Italy.
Prosecutors notified the two executives on Thursday they had concluded the inquiry, the sources said, a step which in Italy nearly always leads to a request by magistrates that the defendants stand trial.
Roche said in a statement it had always acted in compliance with the law and its goal had been to protect patients against the improper use of its product.
"Roche ... trusts that the accusation of market manipulation will prove unfounded, as occurred with the other accusations already dismissed by the prosecutor," it said.
Novartis confirmed in a note that what it termed a current associate of Novartis Italy had been notified by prosecutors in Rome of the investigation's conclusion.
"Novartis is cooperating with the authorities and cannot comment further at this time," the company added.
(Writing by Valentina Za)