Aspen’s 1,800% price-hike collusion windfall from NHS

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SA pharma Aspen‘s admitted price collusion with two other pharams – for which it must pay the UK’s National Health Service £8m (R149m) – enabled it to hike the price of life-saving drug fludrocortisone by 1800%.

The Herald reports that the Aspen was, in a provisional finding, named as one of the guilty parties in a collusion scandal by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The provisional finding was released on Thursday of last week.

The R149m is not a fine but rather an undertaking the company made to the competition authority in August, to resolve the case, when it admitted to anti-competitive behaviour. But, the report says, Aspen could still be hit with a £2.1m (R39.1m) fine should the watchdog find Aspen and two other companies guilty in its final report due to be released early in 2020.

The provisional report named Aspen’s alleged co-conspirators – British company Amilco and Dutch company Tiofarma – for the first time. The authority said it believed Aspen had paid Amilco and Tiofarma to stay out of the market for fludrocortisone acetate tablets – a treatment for Addison’s disease, which affects about 8,400 people in the UK, according to the NHS.

Aspen Pharmacare deputy group CEO Gus Attridge is quoted in the report as saying: “The CMA’s announcement does not provide new information but is rather a confirmation of the acceptance of the £8m in commitments proposed by Aspen in August 2019.”

The collusion by the three pharmaceutical firms resulted in eye-watering price rises for the life-saving drug, fludrocortisone, which, reports The Independent, thousands of patients rely on the medicine to treat what is known as Addison’s disease – an insufficient production of certain hormones.

“This alleged illegal agreement protected Aspen’s UK monopoly in relation to the supply of the drug to the NHS and gave the firm the opportunity to increase prices by up to 1,800%,” the CMA said.

The report says Aspen has already admitted that it took part in this agreement, but the other two firms have not. Amilco and Tiofarma now have the opportunity to respond to the CMA’s provisional findings.

The report says this is not the first time Aspen has had a brush with the law. Three years ago, Italy imposed a €5.2m fine on the company for abusing its dominant position to set unfair prices for four cancer medicines. And in 2017, the European Commission opened an EU-wide investigation into Aspen over the same concerns.

The Herald report (subscription needed) The Independent report

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