The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating "companies" for “suspected unfair pricing” of drugs, including those sold to the NHS.
The watchdog was urged to launch an investigation by the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, following an exposé in The Times in June that accused four companies of exploiting a loophole to hike prices – for off-patent medicines such as antidepressant Sinepin and insomnia drug Welldorm – in some cases by more than 10,000%.
The CMA confirmed last month (October 25) that it is exploring “suspected breaches of competition law in the pharmaceutical sector”.
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) told C+D yesterday (November 7) that it “condemns” price rises by “some small operators”.
“We support the ability of [the] government to question these if they occur,” the ABPI added.
ABPI executive director commercial Dr Richard Torbett described attempts to hike prices in the industry as “cynical and exploitative” when The Times published its investigation in June.
The CMA did not name the companies under scrutiny or make any reference to The Times article.
However, Concordia International Corporation released a statement on the day the CMA launched its investigation, confirming that its international arm of the business, which includes the UK market, was part of the inquiry.
Concordia owns AMCo, a company formed by the merger of Amdipharm and Mercury, two of the businesses that The Times alleged in June are “behind major price increases”.
In its statement, Concordia said: “The CMA's investigation includes matters that pre-date Concordia's ownership of the [international arm of the business].
“We are working cooperatively to better understand the CMA's position, and will continue to work constructively to resolve the matter.”
The pharmaceutical company emphasised that the CMA “has not reached a view as to whether there is sufficient evidence of any infringement for it to issue a statement of objections”.
A spokesperson for Atnahs, one of the other companies named by The Times, told C+D today (November 8) that it has not been made aware of any investigation into its conduct.
The fourth company named by The Times, Auden Mckenzie, is now owned by Teva, one of the largest generic drug manufacturers in the world. Teva declined to comment when approached by C+D.
The CMA said it will decide in February 2017 whether or not to proceed with, or close, its investigation. Not all cases result in an infringement of the law, the CMA said.
The watchdog has the power to fine any companies that have broken the law up to 10% of their turnover, according to Office of Fair Trading rules.