Priadel will continue to be made available to NHS patients after a new low price for the widely-used bipolar drug was agreed.

Plans to withdraw the drug from the market were halted in October after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into whether manufacturer Essential Pharma had ‘abused a dominant position in relation to lithium-based medicines’.

The deal, made between the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Essential Pharma, will mean that the lithium-based drug cannot be withdrawn from the market for at least five years.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said today (24 November) that Essential Pharma has committed to increase the price of the bipolar drug to £7.50 for 200mg tablets per pack and £8.50 for 400mg tablets per pack, instead of withdrawing the drug from the market altogether.

The CMA said its ‘preliminary view’ is that Essential Pharma’s proposed commitments meet its competition concerns and it is now ‘seeking views from others before accepting them formally’.

If accepted, the commitments will bring the CMA’s investigation to an end.

‘A victory for patients’

Priadel 400mg and 200mg tablets were previously priced at £4.02 and £2.76 per pack of 100, respectively. However, in August, Essential Pharma said it would be discontinuing both strengths of the drug in April 2021 because of ‘restrictions on permitted pricing’, which according to the manufacturer meant the product was ‘no longer viable’.

The withdrawal of Priadel would have meant thousands of patients needing to switch to alternative, more expensive, lithium treatments, such as Camcolit - which is also produced by Essential Pharma and costs £48.18 per pack of 400mg tablets.

In response, 12 health and pharmacy bodies wrote a letter to Matt Hancock urging him to stop the proposed withdrawal and warning that Camcolit would ‘cost the NHS approximately £15m annually’, while also adding pressure to ‘already over-stretched’ health services.

Ann Pope, the 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.'

Commenting on the announcement a spokesperson for Essential Pharma said: 'We welcome the decision by the CMA to close its investigation, subject to acceptance of our commitments.

'We have been supplying Priadel at a loss to the UK for a number of years, and following our constructive dialogue with the DHSC, the resulting improved pricing now allows us to supply Priadel in the UK on a sustainable, commercially viable basis.'

They added: 'Essential Pharma is committed to its founding principle of providing access to low volume drugs, which otherwise may not be available on a sustainable basis, at a fair price.

'This swift outcome is good for the NHS and will give certainty to patients using this important product for years to come.'

Sandra Gidley, RPS president said: ‘This is a victory for patients, the NHS and the public purse.

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.’