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Essential Pharma, a private equity-owned pharmaceutical company has increased prices of three antidepressants and two drugs used to treat heart conditions by up to 400 per cent, shortly after acquiring the drugs, The Times reported.

The company, bought out by a Swiss private equity company in 2020, became the sole supplier of the sugar-free liquid medicines in the UK after acquiring it in a deal with another drug maker in late November.

After the price rise, the amount paid by the NHS for the antidepressant drug, imipramine, will increase from about £49 to £250 for 150ml, and that for the mental health drug, lofepramine, from sub £34 to £140, the report said.

The move is estimated to increase the annual cost for NHS in England to more than £2.8 million from £1.1 million in the last financial year, it said.

In 2020, the company faced criticism for attempting to pull out a widely used bipolar drug, Priadel, which could have forced patients to a more expensive alternative owned by the same company.

The plan was dropped following an outcry by doctors and medical bodies, and triggered an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

However, in November 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Essential Pharma agreed for a price cut to ensure that the drug reaches all the patients.

The newspaper quoted a statement from Essential Pharma, which stated its mission was “to ensure that patients receive a sustainable supply of low volume, difficult to manufacture but clinically well-established pharmaceutical products.

“We have a pricing process that aligns our medicines with the price of equivalent, reference products and sets prices that ensure high quality and uninterrupted supply while meeting all the relevant regulatory standards.”

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