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Pfizer faces legal action from Australian competition regulator

SYDNEY, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Australia's competition regulator said on Thursday it was taking legal action against the local division of Pfizer Inc over the way it marketed its cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor to pharmacies.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commision (AC) said Pfizer had, to deter competition, offered pharmacies "significant" discounts and rebates if they stocked at least a year's worth of the drug, which goes by the generic name atorvastatin and is prescribed to over one million Australians.

The drug had generated annual sales exceeding A$700 million ($632.35 million) for Pfizer in Australia before the company's patent expired in there in May 2012, the ACCC said.

Pfizer denied its methods were uncompetitive.

"Pfizer believes strongly that the offers referred to by the ACCC were competitive. We will vigorously defend the proceedings," the company said in a statement.

The ACCC said a preliminary hearing against the company was scheduled for March 18 at the Federal Court of Australia.

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