Yesterday, pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and their UK distributer, Flynn Pharma, were fined £89.4 million by British regulators in response to the increasing cost of an epilepsy drug. The companies were accused of raising the price of the medication by almost 2,600 percent.
According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), 48,000 people in the UK use the drug. The CMA claimed that the drugmaker was charging “excessive and unfair prices” for the epilepsy medication.
“This is the highest fine the CMA has imposed and it sends out a clear message to the sector that we are determined to crack down on such behavior and to protect customers, including the NHS, and taxpayers from being exploited,” said Philip Marsden, chairman of the case decision group for the CMA investigation. Pfizer absorbed the bulk of the fine at £84.2 million, while Flynn Pharma was charged the remaining £5.2 million.
The companies reportedly stopped selling the drug under its branded name, Epanutin, in order to raise the price of the phenytoin sodium capsules. In 2002, England’s National Health Service (NHS) spent £2 million on the epilepsy drug; after the price increase in 2013, this bill was increased to £50 million.
“The companies deliberately exploited the opportunity offered by de-branding to hike up the price for a drug which is relied upon by many thousands of patients,” said Marsden. Both Pfizer and Flynn Pharma are opposed to the ruling – with plans to appeal – saying that the company was losing money on sales of Epanutin.
“In this transaction, and in all of our business operations, we approached this divestment with integrity, and believe it fully complies with established competition law,” said a spokesperson from Pfizer. “The ruling highlights real policy and legal issues concerning the respective roles of both the Department of Health and the CMA, in regulating the price of pharmaceutical products in the U.K. Pfizer will seek clarity on these issues as part of the appeal process.”
The company maintains that the revised cost of Epanutin is 25 to 40 percent less compared to an equivalent epilepsy drug. Drug pricing has been a hot button issue in both the UK and the US for the past few years, with pharmaceutical companies facing increased scrutiny regarding their pricing policies.