Monday July 2, 7:16 AM EDT
LONDON, July 2 (Reuters) - U.S. firm Biogen Inc (BGEN) said on Monday it had taken the first step to a possible criminal prosecution of Serono SA (SEOZ) after the Swiss group broke a court order banning publication of data comparing the firms' rival multiple sclerosis drugs.
Defying the Swiss court injunction on June 22, Serono -- in a briefing in London -- repeated claims that patients treated with its MS drug Rebif were less likely to suffer relapses than those on Biogen's Avonex.
Biogen said it had filed a complaint with the Geneva public prosecutor alleging contempt of court. "The public prosecutor will now refer the matter to an investigating magistrate, who will issue a decision in the matter in a couple of months," said legal director Tamara Joseph.
In a statement, she said the possible sanctions for violating the court order included imprisonment, but admitted a fine was the most likely outcome. The maximum fine is 5,000 Swiss francs ($2,779).
"This criminal complaint is separate from, but of course related to, the civil proceeding that began with the injunction. The hearing on that injunction will occur on July 11," she added.
Joseph said Serono had tried to package this issue for the media as a case of Biogen trying to stop publication of the study results. Yet the very terms of the court order contradicted that argument.
Serono has described the injunction
as a "below-the-belt manoeuvre" to suppress publication of a key head-to-head
study of the rival drugs. Biogen has criticised the way the study was carried
out, particularly the fact that it was not totally blinded.
©2001 Reuters Limited.