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Boris Johnson has branded a drug firm “completely unacceptable and exploitative” after it hiked the price of some thyroid medication by more than 6,000 per cent.
An investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that from 2009 until 2017 Advanz charged “excessive and unfair prices” for supplying liothyronine tablets, which are used to treat thyroid hormone deficiency.
The watchdog said this was because the drugs faced “limited or no competition”, meaning it could sustain repeated price increases, which were “not driven by any meaningful innovation or investment”.
The price increase began in 2007 and by 2009 tablets were £20 per pack. This had increased to £248 by 2017 – a 6,000 per cent rise on the 2006 price of £4, the CMA said.
The drug was placed on the NHS “drop list” in July 2015, meaning patients had to either have their current treatment stopped or start paying for the tablets themselves.
Advanz was handed a fine of £40.9m, while its former private equity owners HgCapital and Cinven, which now form part of the company, were fined £8.6m and £51.9m respectively.
Boris Johnson criticised the firm for “taking advantage” of the NHS, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. A 10 Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister believes it’s completely unacceptable and exploitative for any individual or company to take advantage of the NHS at any time, least of all when it’s in the grips of dealing with a pandemic.
“It remains important that patients have access to medicines at a cost that is fair to the taxpayer, and we expect all pharmaceutical companies to act in the best interests of patients, and we thank the CMA for their tough action in this case.”
Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said the company’s actions to increase prices came at “a huge cost to the NHS and ultimately to UK taxpayers”.
“This wasn’t all,” he added. “It also meant that people dealing with depression and extreme fatigue, as a result of their thyroid conditions, were told they could not continue to receive the most effective treatment for them due to its increased price.
“Advanz’s strategy exploited a loophole enabling it to reap much higher profits. This fine of over £100m, and our work in the pharma sector to date, sends a clear message that breaking the law has serious consequences.”
A spokesman for Advanz said: “Advanz Pharma takes competition law very seriously. We utterly disagree with the CMA’s decision on the pricing of liothyronine tablets and will be appealing.
“At all times, Advanz Pharma acted in the interest of patients, investing significantly to keep this medicine on the market to the specifications required by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
“In addition, any liothyronine price increases were all pre-notified to, and agreed in advance and in writing by, the Department of Health and Social Care.”
Additional reporting by Press Association