Teva offices
Teva officesFlash 90

European Union regulators on Thursday fined Israeli drug-maker Teva for colluding to delay a cheaper generic version of modafinil, a blockbuster sleep disorder drug, AFP reports.

The European Commission said Teva was in breach of EU antitrust rules after it effectively agreed with drug-maker Cephalon, a company it now owns, to keep the cheaper drug off of the market.

Teva and Cephalon were fined a combined 60.5 million euros ($72 million), but the company can appeal this through the European courts.

The EU launched the case in 2011 and pressed charges in July 2017.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Teva's "pay-for-delay" agreement "harmed patients and national health systems, depriving them of more affordable medicines."

Generic products are far cheaper than brand medicines and lead to huge savings to patients and health care providers while remaining just as effective.

In so-called pay-for-delay deals, drug makers secretly compensate generic rivals to thwart the introduction of cheaper versions of blockbuster drugs for an agreed time. Drug makers argue that the arrangement allows them sufficient time to recoup expensive research and marketing costs incurred to bring their products to the market.

Teva settled similar litigation with US anti-trust authorities in 2015. Last year, it vowed to defend itself after being accused of orchestrating price-fixing among drugmakers in a US antitrust lawsuit.

In 2018, the Israeli justice ministry fined Teva $22 million for bribing foreign officials to win business in Russia, Ukraine and Mexico, rather than pressing charges in court against the drugmaker.