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9 October 2019Big PharmaSarah Morgan

CMA alleges collusion allowed 1,800% hike in Aspen drug pricing

African drugmaker Aspen was able to increase its prices for fludrocortisone acetate tablets by 1,800% in the UK, as a result of collusion with two other firms, according to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Last week, the CMA issued its statement of objections, setting out its provisional view that Aspen unlawfully agreed to pay Amilco and Tiofarma to stay out of the UK market for the tablets in 2016.

Prescription-only Fludrocortisone acetate tablets treat primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency, commonly known as Addison’s Disease.

In exchange for staying out of the market, Tiofarma was made the sole manufacturer of fludrocortisone for direct sale in the UK and Amilco received a 30% share of the increased prices that Aspen was able to charge, alleged the competition watchdog.

The CMA’s statement follows Aspen’s admission that it took part in this allegedly anticompetitive arrangement.

In August, Aspen approached the competition authority with a proposed package which includes compensation to the NHS and a fine of £2.1 million ($2.6 million), if the CMA reaches a formal decision that the drugmaker broke the law.

On Thursday, October 3, the CMA also formally accepted Aspen’s offer, which includes a payment of £8 million ($9.7 million) to the UK’s National Health System, to resolve a competition concern related to Aspen’s purchase of a competitor fludrocortisone product from Tiofarma.

This was the first time the competition authority will secure such payment to the NHS in one of its pharmaceutical investigations.

Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at the CMA, said: “The CMA has today provisionally found that Aspen, Amilco and Tiofarma broke competition law by taking part in an illegal agreement which led to a significant price hike for a lifesaving drug.”

Amilco and Tiofarma have made no admission of engaging in an illegal, anti-competitive agreement. The two companies will be able to to respond to the CMA’s provisional findings.

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