- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2011

BRUSSELS (AP) - The European Union is investigating whether drug companies Novartis and Johnson & Johnson colluded to keep a generic painkiller out of the Dutch market, the bloc’s antitrust watchdog said Friday.

The European Commission is assessing whether contractual arrangements between the two companies “may have had the object or effect of hindering the entry on to the market of generic versions of Fentanyl.”

Fentanyl is a strong painkiller for chronic pain.

Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff confirmed the probe, but added “we don’t comment on ongoing procedures.” The Basel-based company reports its third-quarter results Tuesday.

The Commission said the investigation was triggered by its own inquiry into the ability of generics _ cheaper versions of medications that are no longer protected by patents _ to enter the market.