In what is seen as a big win for NHS patients, a relatively lower price for an essential bipolar drug has been agreed between the Department for Health and Social Care (DH) and manufacturer, Essential Pharma.

The Swiss-based pharmaceutical company has now offered commitments which include continuing to supply Priadel, a lithium medication used by bipolar patients, on terms agreed with the DH.

The new price, which is £7.50 for 200mg tablets per pack of Priadel and £8.50 for 400mg, is significantly less than the price of Camcolit, which is £48.18 per pack of 400mg tablets.

‘Victory for patients’

“This is a victory for patients, the NHS and the public purse,” said Sandra Gidley, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

She added: “We’re delighted that negotiations on the price of Priadel have come to this positive conclusion for patients with bipolar disorder. They will now be able to remain on the drug that keeps them stable.

“In the future companies must be prevented from exploiting the system to better support patient care and the NHS.”

This comes after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into Essential Pharma last month over suspicions that the firm may have abused its dominant market position by proposing to withdraw the supply of the bipolar drug to UK patients.

Withdrawal of Priadel would have required patients to switch to alternative, more expensive treatments such as Camcolit, which is also owned by Essential Pharma.

Following the opening of the CMA’s investigation, the drug manufacturer paused the withdrawal of Priadel and entered into price negotiations with the DH.

The pharma company has now also offered formal commitments to the CMA to address competition concerns regarding its strategy in relation to the drug. The commitments by the Essential Pharma meet the competition concerns of the CMA, which “is now seeking views from others before accepting them formally. If accepted, the commitments will bring the investigation to an end.”

These proposed commitments would last for five years and include continuing to supply Priadel on terms agreed with the DH. It would mean that the company cannot threaten to withdraw Priadel in order to increase the price without a valid reason.

The CMA is now inviting stakeholders to submit any comments on the commitments by December 9, before it reaches its final decision on whether or not to accept them.

“The investigation by the CMA is ongoing and no decision has been made as to whether the law has been broken. However, if the commitments are accepted by the CMA, they will become legally binding, which means Essential Pharma cannot choose to retract them,” the CMA said in a statement on Tuesday (Nov 24).

Ann Pope, CMA’s senior director of antitrust, said: “Since the CMA intervened just last month, Essential Pharma has agreed to carry on supplying Priadel at a price agreed with the DHSC, which we hope will give peace of mind to the thousands of patients who rely on it.

“We will carefully consider any responses to the consultation on the proposed commitments offered by Essential Pharma before reaching our final decision, with the best protection for patients in mind”.

The move follows a campaign by various organisations, including the RPS, to stop the proposed withdrawal of Priadel which would have seen the NHS’ costs increase significantly, at a time when it faces unprecedented pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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