They stressed that as far as possible, prescribing and dispensing should operate on a business as usual basis, and this should be widely communicated (iStock)

Four pharmaceutical companies who broke competition law in relation to the supply of an antidepressant have been fined more than £3.4 million.

Two of the four firms have been asked to make a payment of £1 million directly to the NHS.

This follows a recent probe by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into the supply of nortriptyline, which has also led to the disqualification of a company director.

Fined for market sharing

The CMA found that King Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Auden Mckenzie (Pharma Division) Ltd shared between them the supply of nortriptyline – a drug relied upon by thousands of NHS patients every day to relieve symptoms of depression – to a large pharmaceutical wholesaler.

Rather than competing, the two companies agreed that King would supply only 25mg and Auden Mckenzie only 10mg tablets, between September 2014 and May 2015.

The CMA said the two firms – which have now admitted to breaking the law – “also colluded to fix quantities and prices.”

“After this market sharing ended, Accord-UK Ltd took control of Auden Mckenzie’s nortriptyline business, and so the CMA holds the company responsible for Auden’s illegal conduct,” the investigators said.

As a result, the CMA has fined King and Accord-UK £75,573 and £1,882,238 respectively.

Accord and Auden Mckenzie have also agreed to make a £1 million payment to the NHS in connection with the case.

Fined for information exchange

The competition watchdog said it has also fined King, Lexon (UK) Ltd and Alissa Healthcare Research Ltd for illegally sharing commercially sensitive information, to try to keep nortriptyline prices up.

The three suppliers exchanged information about prices, the volumes they were supplying, and Alissa’s plans to enter the market between 2015 and 2017. Significantly, this was when the cost of the drug was falling, according to the CMA.

King and Alissa, who have both admitted to “breaking the law,” have been fined £75,573 and £174,912 respectively, while Lexon, who have contested their involvement in the infringement, have been fined a total of £1,220,383.

Disqualification

Meanwhile, exercising its power under the Company Directors Disqualification Act, the CMA has secured the disqualification of Dr Philip Hallwood, a director at King Pharmaceuticals; he cannot be involved in the management of any UK company for seven years.

Community pharmacists can “lose out”

Commenting on the news, Chief Executive of the National Pharmacy Association Mark Lyonette said: “As restricted competition can lead to the NHS and taxpayers facing higher costs, we are not surprised that the CMA has imposed significant financial penalties on these companies. Community pharmacists can also lose out if a lack of choice results in higher medicines prices.”

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