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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2008, 10:45 GMT
Gaviscon makers' plans revealed
By Martin Shankleman
Business correspondent, BBC News

Gaviscon is the market leader in its field
Calling a project "Eric" is unusual, but it underscores the danger to Reckitt Benckiser of generic competition.

As one e-mail in April 2003 from marketing executive Charlotte Reader stated: "Over half of our total NHS Gaviscon market is still under constant threat from the potential introduction of a generic."

The documents reveal a sophisticated plan to counter the end of patent protection for Gaviscon in 1999.

Reckitt set out to deliberately raise legal and technical objections in order to delay the work of the authorities in establishing a generic market.

"Should we not drag this out as long as we can," wrote Anand Sharma, a global director, in July 2003, "9m of business is at stake."

Charlotte Reader commented: "Is there anything we can do in the short term to muddy the waters?... I am sure there must be something we can dig out of the cupboard!"

More disturbingly, the files suggest that the company believed it could influence the work of the drugs regulator, the British Pharmacopoeia Commission, which was preparing a scientific paper, a monograph, of how to make generic Gaviscon.

Reckitt believed it "managed the monograph", according to its 2004 marketing plan.

"We are the best people to define tighter specifications, which could restrict entry to new competitors," wrote former head of research and development Peter Dettmar in another paper.

The climax of the plan came in 2005, when Reckitt capitalised on the delays to announce the withdrawal of Gaviscon from the NHS, bouncing patients on to a different version called Gaviscon Advance, which was still patent-protected and immune from competition.

As a result, Gaviscon still dominates the market for alginic acid compounds, with a market share of 88%, according to the latest figures from the NHS.

In reply, the company disputed it enjoyed market dominance, saying it had only a small fraction of the broader market for stomach remedies.

And it told the BBC: "We believe that we have acted at all times within the law, and relevant regulations," adding, "We do not accept much of what has been said, which implies a power or patient access we simply do not possess."

The British Pharmacopeoia Commission also denied that it had allowed Reckitt Benckiser to influence its work, stating "any allegations to the contrary would be inappropriate and misleading".

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