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A coalition of consumer groups has sued Bristol-Myers Squibb over the pharmaceutical giant’s effort to stop another company from selling a low-cost generic version of its anti-anxiety drug BuSpar. The Prescription Access Litigation project contends that Bristol-Myers Squibb illegally tried to maintain a monopoly on the anti-anxiety drug BuSpar after its original patent expired, The New York Times reported Sunday. The coalition says its lawsuit is the first in which consumer groups have turned to the courts for help in fighting the soaring cost of prescription drugs. “Some groups have worked to create subsidy programs in their states. Others have organized trips to Canadian pharmacies. But none of that’s made a dent in prices,” PAL project director Kim Shellenberger said in a statement. “Now we’re ready to fight back.” The lawsuits were filed Friday in federal court in Manhattan and in state courts in New York, Florida and Maine. The group said it also plans to sue other manufacturers. “We believe these lawsuits are without merit,” Bristol-Myers Squibb spokesman Patrick Donohue told the Times. “We intend to vigorously defend the company’s actions.” BuSpar has been on the market for 15 years and had sales of $709 billion, making it the company’s fifth biggest seller. Mylan and Watson Pharmaceuticals had planned to launch a generic version of BuSpar on Nov. 22, after the original patent expired. But on Nov. 21, Bristol-Myers Squibb filed for a new patent to cover a molecule created when patients metabolize BuStar, and that prevented Mylan and Watson from selling the generic version. Mylan sued and won last month but Bristol-Myers Squibb, based in Princeton, N.J., is appealing the decision. The consumer groups’ lawsuit alleges that Bristol’s actions in obtaining the new patent violates antitrust law. Members of the coalition include the New York Statewide Senior Action Council, Citizen Action of New York, Consumers for Affordable Health Care Foundation, Health Care For All, and the Massachusetts Senior Action Council. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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