Over £3m in fines and £1m for NHS in CMA pharma probe

Healthcare | Legal | South East

Following an investigation, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found that four pharmaceutical companies broke competition law in relation to the supply of an antidepressant.

The probe by the CMA into the supply of nortriptyline, a drug relied on by thousands of patients every day to relieve symptoms of depression, has resulted in fines totalling more than £3.4m, and a payment of £1m directly to the NHS. It has also led to the disqualification of a company director.

This investigation exposed two breaches of competition law: market sharing and information exchange.

The CMA found that, rather than competing, King Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Auden Mckenzie (Pharma Division) Ltd shared out between them the supply of nortriptyline to a large pharmaceutical wholesaler. From September 2014 to May 2015, the two companies agreed that King would supply only 25mg and Auden Mckenzie only 10mg tablets. The two firms also colluded to fix quantities and prices.

King and Auden Mckenzie have now admitted breaking the law. After this market sharing ended, Accord-UK Ltd took control of Auden Mckenzie’s nortriptyline business, and so the CMA holds it responsible for Auden’s illegal conduct.

As a result, the CMA has fined King and Accord-UK £75,573 and £1,882,238 respectively. On top of this, Accord-UK and Auden Mckenzie have agreed to make a £1m payment to the NHS in connection with the case. It is the second time the CMA has secured a payment to the NHS following one of its pharmaceutical investigations.

The CMA is also fining King, Lexon (UK) Ltd and Alissa Healthcare Research Ltd for illegally sharing commercially sensitive information, to try to keep nortriptyline prices up. Between 2015 and 2017, when the cost of the drug was falling, the three suppliers exchanged information about prices, the volumes they were supplying, and Alissa’s plans to enter the market.

In September 2019, King and Alissa both admitted to breaking the law, and they are today being fined £75,573 and £174,912 respectively. Lexon did not admit to breaking the law and is being fined a total of £1,220,383.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive at the CMA, said: “These firms exchanged sensitive information and shared out supply to try and keep prices up, meaning the NHS – and ultimately the UK taxpayer – could have been paying over the odds for this vital drug.

“That’s why we’ve worked hard to secure £3.4m in fines and another pay out for the NHS. Today’s decisions should act as a clear warning to any pharmaceutical company that considers stifling competition and cheating the NHS.”

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