Canadian drug company Concordia has overcharged the NHS millions of pounds for a lifechanging thyroid drug, according to Britain’s competition watchdog.
The Competition and Markets Authority said it had provisionally found that Concordia had “abused its dominant position to overcharge the NHS” by hiking the price of liothyronine by 6,000% in 10 years.
The regulator has been investigating how much the pharmaceutical company was charging for liothyronine tablets, used to treat patients with an underactive thyroid.
It found that the NHS spent more than £34m on the drug last year, up from around £600,000 in 2006. The amount it paid per pack rose from £4.46 in 2007 to £258.19 by July 2017. Production costs remained broadly stable during that period.
Concordia could be fined up to 10% of its worldwide annual turnover.
Liothyronine tablets are primarily used to treat hypothyroidism, a condition caused by a deficiency of the thyroid hormone that affects at least 2 in every 100 people and can lead to depression, tiredness and weight gain. For many patients there is no alternative and, until earlier this year, Concordia was the only supplier.
The CMA chief executive, Andrea 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.
“At this stage in the investigation, our findings are provisional and there has been no definitive decision that there has been a breach of competition law. We will carefully consider any representations from the companies before deciding whether the law has in fact been broken.”
Concordia and private equity firms Cinven and HgCapital, which previously owned businesses that now form part of the company, have been asked to respond to the findings.
Concordia is the subject of another CMA investigation. The regulator said in March in a provisional finding that the Canadian firm made illegal deals with rival Actavis UK to inflate the price for life-saving hydrocortisone tablets in Britain .
Last year, the CMA fined US pharma giant Pfizer and drug distributor Flynn Pharma nearly £90m – including a record £84m penalty for Pfizer – after they increased the price charged to the NHS for an anti-epilepsy drug by up to 2,600%.
Britain’s biggest drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline and two other firms were fined £45m over the anti-depressant medicine paroxetine. Both decisions are under appeal. The CMA is carrying out seven other investigations in relation to drug pricing and competition issues.
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