Concordia hiked drug price by 6,000%, says UK watchdog

The UK’s competition authority has provisionally found pharma company Concordia abused its dominant position to overcharge the National Health Service by millions for an essential thyroid drug.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigated how much Concordia was charging for liothyronine tablets, and found the NHS spent £34 million on it last year – an increase from £600,000 in 2006.

Concordia has denied the claims, saying the pricing of the tablets has been conducted openly and transparently with the UK’s Department of Health for the last decade.

A company spokesperson added: “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.”

This is one of seven investigations into several companies related to drug pricing and competition issues.

The CMA found the amount paid per pack rose from around £4.46 when it was de-branded in 2007 to £258.17 by July 2017 – an increase of almost 6,000% while production costs remained broadly stable.

Liothyronine is used to treat hypothyroidism, deficiency of thyroid hormone affecting at least two in every 100 people, which can lead to depression, tiredness and weight gain.

Until earlier this year, Concordia was the only supplier of the drug, and for many patients there is no suitable alternative.

The CMA has raised a statement of objections against Concordia as well as Cinven and HgCapital, private equity firms and previous owners of companies now forming part of Concordia.

Findings are provisional and there has been no definitive decision that there has been a breach of competition law.

But if the provisional finding is upheld, the CMA can impose a fine of up to 10% of the company’s annual worldwide turnover.

CMA chief executive Andrew Coscelli 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.”

The CMA has already fined Pfizer and Flynn Pharma nearly £90m for overpricing the epilepsy drug phenytoin sodium capsules.

It also fined a group of pharma companies a total of £45m in relation to antidepressant paroxetine – but both these decisions are under appeal.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) trade body, said: “The ABPI does not in any way support or condone any deliberate ‘price hikes’ by pharmaceutical companies.”

“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.”

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