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Pfizer accused of overcharging NHS for epilepsy medication

By Isabel Shaw

06 Aug 2021

The UK competition regulator has suggested that drugmakers Pfizer and Flynn Pharma have abused dominant positions in the drug market by overcharging the NHS for an epilepsy drug. 

This is the latest in an ongoing legal battle between the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the two pharmaceutical companies.  

On Thursday (5 August) the CMA announced it had reassessed the case and accused both drug companies of breaking competition law by charging ‘unfairly high’ prices for phenytoin sodium capsules back in 2016. 

The watchdog reinvestigated the case after Pfizer appealed against the CMA’s 2016 record fine of £84.2m, and won.  

The Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) ruled at the time that the regulator had not correctly applied the legal test when it found that the companies’ prices were unfair and told the CMA to reinvestigate its abuse finding.  

In a recent assessment, the drug firms have been accused by the CMA of exploiting a ‘loophole’ by debranding the epilepsy drug so that it was not subject to price regulation in the way branded drugs are. 

The CMA said that Pfizer had priced the drug between 780% and 1,600% higher than it had before. Pfizer then supplied the drug to Flynn, which sold it to pharmacies and wholesalers at prices between 2,300% and 2,600% higher than those they had paid previously. 

This meant the NHS spending on phenytoin sodium capsules rose from around £2 million a year in 2012 to about £50 million in 2013.  

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: ‘Thousands of patients depend on this drug to prevent life-threatening seizures as a result of their epilepsy.  

‘As the CAT recognised, this is a matter that is important for the Government, for the public as patients and taxpayers, and for the pharmaceutical industry itself. Protecting these patients, the NHS and the taxpayers who fund it, is our priority.’ 

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