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Pharma firms accused of colluding to keep nortriptyline prices high

Three pharmaceutical companies exchanged commercially sensitive information to keep prices of antidepressant nortriptyline high, a government watchdog has alleged.

Manufacturer King Pharmaceuticals, along with wholesalers Alissa Healthcare and Lexon UK, exchanged commercially sensitive information, including information on prices, volumes and “entry plans...to try to keep nortriptyline prices high”, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) alleged yesterday (June 18).

King Pharmaceuticals is further accused – along with manufacturer Auden Mckenzie – of agreeing to share the supply of the drug to an unnamed “large pharmaceutical wholesaler”, the watchdog said.

The CMA told C+D it would not name the wholesaler as it has not done anything wrong at this stage.

The CMA provisionally found that in 2014, the manufacturers agreed that Auden Mckenzie would supply only 10mg nortriptyline tablets and King Pharmaceuticals would supply only 25mg nortriptyline tablets, as well as agreeing to fix the quantities and prices of the drug, the watchdog said.

NHS spending on the drug peaked at £38 million in 2015, the CMA said.

The CMA’s findings are provisional, the watchdog stressed, and the companies have the opportunity to make representations before it reaches a final decision.

You can read the responses from Lexon UK, Alissa Healthcare, Auden Mckenzie and King Pharmaceuticals below.

Companies co-operating with the CMA

One of Lexon UK’s non-executive directors is Nitin Sodha – who last week stepped aside from his role as chair of the National Pharmacy Association while the CMA investigates separate claims of Lexon UK’s involvement in hiking the price of anti-nausea drug prochlorperazine.

In a statement to C+D yesterday, Lexon UK told C+D it “denies all allegations made by the CMA regarding nortriptyline and prochlorperazine”.

“To date, we have actively co-operated with the CMA’s investigations around these products and are now engaging with our legal team to prove that we have had no influence on the inflation of pricing of these products.”

Alissa Healthcare said it “awaits further discussion with the CMA”, but “for now, it is fair to say that Alissa Healthcare has never entered into any anti-competitive agreement for nortriptyline or any other medicine”.

“We have never disclosed our selling prices to competitors and never disclosed our sales volumes,” the wholesaler added.

Accord UK acquired Auden Mckenzie as part of its buyout of Actavis UK in 2017.*

In a statement to C+D today, Accord UK said: “The CMA’s allegations do not reflect the ownership of the business by Accord UK since they relate to alleged actions by Auden Mckenzie in 2014.”

It is “disappointed by the CMA’s decision to issue a statement of objections to us and do not believe Accord UK should be pursued for alleged illegal actions by Auden Mckenzie simply on the basis that Accord UK subsequently became the owner of some of the assets related to those actions”, it added.

Accord UK intends to “defend our position against this provisional finding”, it stressed.  

King Pharmaceuticals said it is “co-operating with the CMA’s investigation”.

“The fact that an investigation is being carried out does not mean that the company in question has engaged in conduct that would infringe competition law, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation,” it stressed.

*This article was updated on June 19 to clarify that Accord UK was not speaking on behalf of Auden Mckenzie, which was acquired by Actavis UK in 2015.

Do you regularly dispense nortriptyline in your pharmacy?

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