The Competition and Markets Authority has closed its investigations into pricing and supply of a key bipolar drug to the NHS by Essential Pharma.

The competition watchdog said on Friday (Dec 18) that it has “accepted legally binding commitments” from the Swiss-based pharmaceutical company which guarantee continued supply of Priadel at an affordable price for five years.

The CMA, however, noted that “protection for consumers” will not automatically end once the “commitments expire” because companies will still need to “ensure they act fairly” in legal terms.

“If a company engaged in practices which the CMA reasonably suspected could break the law after commitments made to the CMA came to end, then the CMA could take further action.”

Essential Pharma had planned to withdraw the leading brand of lithium carbonate from the market in a move that would have cost the NHS about £15 million a year, leading to an investigation by the competition watchdog on suspicion that the pharmaceutical supplier may have abused a dominant market position by adopting a strategy to withdraw Priadel from UK patients.

Immediately after the CMA opened its probe, Essential Pharma paused the withdrawal of Priadel and entered into price negotiations with the Department for Health and Social Care which resulted in a new price agreement: £7.50 for a 200mg pack and £8.50 for a 400mg pack, significantly lower than other forms of lithium such as Essential Pharma-owned Camcolit 400mg tablets, priced at £48.18 per pack.

“This was an important case, which had the potential to affect tens of thousands of patients and cause additional financial strain to the NHS in the middle of a pandemic,” Ann Pope, the CMA’s senior director of antitrust, said.

“The CMA intervened quickly, which resulted in Essential Pharma keeping Priadel on the market at an affordable price – a positive outcome for patients, the NHS and the taxpayers who ultimately fund these drugs.”

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