Kohl urges trade officials to be wary of drug industry consolidation

The chairman of the Senate's antitrust panel on Thursday urged the Federal Trade Commission to pay special attention to prescription drug shortages when weighing whether to approve pharmaceutical industry mergers.

"Maintaining a competitive pharmaceutical market is the highest priority, and these reports of drug shortages are very troubling to me," Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) wrote to FTC Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz. "While I recognize that often shortages are likely to have causes not related to these competition issues, antitrust enforcers — particularly when reviewing drug company mergers — must be cognizant of these shortages when applying antitrust law to the drug industry."

The pharmaceutical industry has seen at least nine megamergers during the past decade, Kohl wrote, and a record 211 medications suffered shortages in 2010. Kohl also points to a 2009 government report that found that "[f]ewer drug companies competing in a therapeutic class may lead to fewer prescription drugs being developed and sold within that class."

Kohl is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, which has oversight over the FTC.