DRUGS manufacturer AstraZeneca was yesterday fined more than £40m, after it tried to block rivals from marketing a medicine similar to one of its own products.

The Competition Commission found that the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals group had actively stopped routes to market for a drug similar to its ulcer medication, Losec.

The commission's inquiry found that, from 1993 until 2000, AstraZeneca breached EU competition rules "by blocking or delaying the market access for generic versions of Losec and preventing parallel imports of Losec".

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "Health care systems throughout Europe rely on generic drugs to keep costs down. Patients benefit from lower prices.

"By preventing generic competition, AstraZeneca kept Losec prices artificially high."

Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said the fine amounted to far less than the potential benefit to the company of seven years of serious abuses of its dominant market position.

Losec pioneered a new generation of medicines to treat stomach ulcers and other acid-related ailments.

The drug initially received patent protection in Europe in 1979 - and for a time Losec was the world's best-selling popular medicine.

AstraZeneca said it did not accept the EC's decision and would appeal against the fine.