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30 November 2020BiotechnologyMuireann Bolger

CMA reveals antitrust investigation into Essential Pharma over bipolar drug

The  UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating  Essential Pharma over suspicions that the pharmaceutical company contravened competition law by proposing to withdraw the supply of  Priadel, a lithium-based medication for bipolar disease.

According to a  statement released on November 24, the withdrawal of Priadel would require UK patients to switch to alternative, more costly treatments such as  Camcolit, which is also owned by Essential Pharma.

Following the opening of the CMA’s investigation in October, Essential Pharma paused the withdrawal of Priadel and entered into price negotiations with the  Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), according to the statement.

This has resulted in an agreement with the DHSC on a revised price for Priadel that is still lower than alternative bipolar drugs. The prices agreed on by Essential Pharma and DHSC for Priadel are £7.50 for 200mg tablets per pack and £8.50 for 400mg tablets per pack. This is significantly less than the price of Camcolit, which costs £48.18 per pack of 400mg tablets.

Essential Pharma has now also offered formal commitments to the CMA to address competition concerns regarding its strategy in relation to Priadel. These proposed commitments will last five years and include a pledge to continue supplying Priadel on terms agreed with the DHSC. It also means that the company cannot threaten to withdraw the drug in order to increase the price without good reason.

The CMA believes that the proposed commitments meet its competition concerns and is now seeking views from medical bodies before accepting them formally. If accepted, the commitments will bring the investigation to an end.

“Medical bodies and charities had voiced significant concerns over patients having to switch bipolar medication, which can be a lengthy and complicated process and can ultimately lead to serious health implications,” said the statement.

It also noted that the proposed withdrawal would have also seen NHS costs increase significantly, at a time when it faces unprecedented pressure due to COVID-19.

Ann Pope, the CMA’s senior director of antitrust, said: “Since the CMA intervened just last month, Essential Pharma has agreed to carry on supplying Priadel at a price agreed with the DHSC, which we hope will give peace of mind to the thousands of patients who rely on it.

“We will carefully consider any responses to the consultation on the proposed commitments offered by Essential Pharma before reaching our final decision, with the best protection for patients in mind.”

The CMA is inviting stakeholders to  submit any comments on the commitments by December 9, 2020, before it reaches its final decision on whether or not to accept them.

The investigation by the CMA is ongoing and no decision has been made as to whether the law has been broken, the statement confirmed. However, if the commitments are accepted by the CMA, they will become legally binding, which means Essential Pharma cannot retract them.

If the CMA accepts the proposed commitments to solve its competition concerns, it will not make a finding as to whether the company breached the competition law or impose a fine.

However, If the CMA does not accept the proposed commitments, the investigation will revert to the CMA’s standard procedure, which may lead to the CMA issuing a statement of objections in due course and imposing a financial penalty on the company if it is found to have infringed competition law.

LSIPR has approached Essential Pharma for comment.

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