Tuesday 20 March 2018

Pfizer and Flynn are fined record €105m for hiking up cost of drugs

Pfizer has said it will appeal
Pfizer has said it will appeal

Ben Hirschler

THE UK competition watchdog has fined Pfizer a record £84.2m (€99m) for its role in ramping up the cost of an epilepsy drug by as much as 2,600pc.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also fined Flynn Pharma £5.2m (€6.1m) for overcharging for phenytoin sodium capsules, following a dramatic price hike in 2012.

The CMA's ruling comes amid a growing debate on both sides of the Atlantic about the ethics of raising prices for old off-patent medicines made by a few firms and where there is little competition.

US drugmaker Turing Pharmaceuticals, led at the time by hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli, caused outrage last year by raising the US price of Daraprim, an old anti-infective drug, by more than 5,000pc to $750 (€699m) a pill.

In the case of phenytoin sodium capsules, the UK price charged for 100 mg packs of the drug jumped from £2.83 to £67.50 in 2012, before coming down to £54 from May 2014.

As a result, annual spending on the capsules by Britain's National Health Service rose from £2m (€2.3m) in 2012 to about £50m (€58.7m) in 2013. The CMA said UK prices were many times higher than elsewhere in Europe.

Pfizer used to market the medicine under the brand name Epanutin but sold the rights to Flynn, a privately owned British company, in September 2012.

It was then debranded, meaning that it was no longer subject to price regulation, and the price soared.

"The companies deliberately exploited the opportunity offered by debranding to hike up the price for a drug which is relied upon by many thousands of patients," said Philip Marsden, chairman of the CMA's case decision group.

"This is the highest fine the CMA has imposed and it sends out a clear message to the sector that we are determined to crack down on such behaviour."

Pfizer plans to appeal all aspects of the CMA's verdict and said the medicine had been loss-making and it was therefore forced to consider whether it could continue supplying it. Pfizer added that the price set by Flynn was actually 25 to 40pc less than the cost of an equivalent tablet from another supplier.

Flynn also plans to appeal. Ceo David Fakes said punishing Flynn for selling phenytoin capsules for less than phenytoin tablets "beggars belief". (Bloomberg)

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