Wednesday 21 August 2019

Canadian drugs firm accused of overcharging NHS for thyroid treatment

The Competition and Markets Authority said the NHS spent more than £34 million on Concordia’s drug liothyronine – up from around £600,000 in 2006.

Drugs probe
Drugs probe

By Holly Williams, Press Association Deputy City Editor

A drugs firm overcharged the NHS by millions for an essential thyroid treatment, the UK’s competition watchdog has provisionally found.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said the NHS spent more than £34 million on the firm’s drug liothyronine – up from around £600,000 in 2006.

The amount it paid per pack rose from around £4.46 in 2007 to £258.19 by July 2017, an increase of almost 6,000%.

The CMA said in its provisional findings that it believes Canadian firm Concordia may have “abused its dominant position”, with the price hike coming despite “broadly stable” production costs.

But Concordia said it did not believe competition law had been infringed.

Liothyronine tablets are primarily used to treat hypothyroidism, a condition caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormone affecting at least two in every 100 people and which can lead to depression, tiredness and weight gain.

Until earlier this year, Concordia was the only supplier of the drug.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Pharmaceutical companies which abuse their position and overcharge for drugs are forcing the NHS – and the UK taxpayer – to pay over the odds for important medical treatments.

“We allege that Concordia used its market dominance in the supply of liothyronine tablets to do exactly that.”

But he stressed that the findings are provisional, with no definitive decision that there has been a breach of competition law.

Concordia said: “We do not believe that competition law has been infringed.

“The pricing of liothyronine has been conducted openly and transparently with the Department of Health in the UK over a period of 10 years.

“Over that time, significant investment has been made in this medicine to ensure its continued availability for patients in the UK, to the specifications required by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK.”

It added it would review the CMA’s provisional findings and respond “in detail”.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) welcomed the CMA’s action.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the ABPI, said: “We fully support the CMA in taking action in cases of proven abuse of market power.

“We also continue to support the Government in taking policy steps to ensure such abuses cannot happen in the future.

“This case is yet to conclude, but we do not – and will not – support any company found to have intentionally exploited the NHS.”

The Concordia probe is one of a number of CMA cases in the pharmaceutical sector, including a recent fine against Pfizer and Flynn Pharma of nearly £90 million for excessive and unfair prices for anti-epilepsy treatment, which is currently under appeal.

The CMA also fined a number of pharmaceutical firms a total of £45 million in relation to anti-depressant medicine paroxetine, which is likewise under appeal, and has another seven investigations open into firms over drug pricing and competition issues.

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