Drug companies conspired to ramp up life-saving NHS drug by 1800 per cent
On the 4th October this year, the BMJ reported that – three drug companies signed an illegal agreement that resulted in price hikes of up to 1800% for an essential medicine. This was the conclusion of a provisional finding from the UK’s competition watchdog.
In a “statement of objections” issued on 3 October, the UK Competition and Markets Authority set out its provisional view that, in 2016, the drug company Aspen unlawfully agreed to pay two other firms, Amilco and Tiofarma, to stay out of the UK market for fludrocortisone acetate tablets, a prescription-only medicine mainly used to treat Addison’s disease.
The alleged illegal agreement protected Aspen’s UK monopoly to supply the drug to the NHS and enabled the company to increase prices by up to 1800%, the CMA said. This increased the price of a pack of 30 tablets from £1.50 to up to £30.
Addison’s disease is a disorder of the adrenal glands. It is a clear demonstration of the scale of immorality that drug companies are capable of in a country like Britain.
The arrangement between Aspen, headquartered in South Africa, Britain’s Amilco and the Netherlands’ Tiofarma lasted from March 2016 until October 2016.
The watchdog also said Aspen will pay the NHS £8m to resolve another competition issue related to the supply of fludrocortisone.
Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at the authority, said, “The CMA has today provisionally found that Aspen, Amilco, and Tiofarma broke competition law by taking part in an illegal agreement which led to a significant price hike for a lifesaving drug.
“The NHS should not be denied the opportunity of benefiting from an increased choice of suppliers, and so potential savings on what it spends on essential drugs.”
This is not the first time the company has had a brush with the law. Three years ago, Italy imposed a €5.2m (£4.6m) fine on Aspen for abusing its dominant position to set unfair prices for four cancer medicines.
In May 2017, the European Commission opened an EU-wide investigation into Aspen over the same concerns.
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Worse still, leaked internal emails appear to show employees at Aspen calling for “celebration” over price hikes of cancer drugs after an investigation revealed staff had reportedly plotted to destroy stocks of life-saving medicines during a price dispute with the Spanish health service in 2014.
After purchasing five different cancer drugs from British firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the company tried to sell the medicines in Europe for up to 40 times their previous price.
The company, which is based in South Africa and has its European headquarters in Dublin.