Belfast Telegraph

Actavis UK 'charging excessive and unfair price' for drug after 12,000% hike

Pharmaceutical company Actavis UK has been accused by the competition watchdog of "charging excessive and unfair prices" after the firm ramped up the price of a life-saving drug by more than 12,000%.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said that Actavis, formerly known as Auden Mckenzie, increased the price of 10mg hydrocortisone tablets from 70p in April 2008 to £88 per pack by March 2016.

The firm has also been condemned for increasing the price of 20mg hydrocortisone tablets by nearly 9,500% compared with the previous branded price, from £1.07 to £102.74 per pack.

The price hikes sent the amount the NHS spent on hydrocortisone tablets from approximately £522,000 to £70 million a year by 2015.

In a statement of objections issued to Actavis, the CMA alleges that it broke competition law by charging "excessive and unfair prices".

Hydrocortisone tablets are used as the primary replacement therapy for people whose adrenal glands do not produce sufficient amounts of natural steroid hormones; for example, those with Addison's disease.

The condition is life-threatening and approximately 943,000 packs of hydrocortisone tablets were dispensed in the UK in 2015, according to the CMA.

Andrew Groves, the CMA's senior responsible officer, said: "This is a life-saving drug relied on by thousands of patients, which the NHS has no choice but to continue purchasing.

"We allege that the company has taken advantage of this situation and the removal of the drug from price regulation, leaving the NHS - and ultimately the taxpayer - footing the bill for the substantial price rises.

"The CMA's findings are provisional and no conclusion should be drawn at this stage that there has in fact been any breach of competition law. The CMA will carefully consider any representations of the parties under investigation before determining whether the law has been infringed."

The move is part of a wider clampdown on pharmaceutical firms and their dealings with the NHS.

Earlier this month, Viagra-maker Pfizer was fined a record £84.2 million by the competition watchdog for its role in overcharging the NHS after the price of an epilepsy drug was hiked by up to 2,600% overnight.