After 10,000% price hike, pharma companies face $350M-plus fine in U.K.

court decision
U.K. authorities slapped a group of drugmakers with hefty fines after discovering breaches of competition law, with the CMA chief executive calling the offenses “the most serious abuses” uncovered in recent years. (Getty Images)

The U.K.’s long-running investigation of the 10,000% price hike for generic hydrocortisone tablets has now yielded hefty fines for several drugmakers. 

After a years-long probe, the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority on Thursday handed down fines worth more than £260 million ($360 million) to more than 10 pharmaceutical companies. 

Specifically, authorities say Auden Mckenzie and Actavis UK—now known as Accord-UK—charged the government health system “excessively high prices” on hydrocortisone tablets for nearly a decade. Authorities hit those two companies with fines totaling £221 million ($305 million).

The offenses are “without doubt some of the most serious abuses we have uncovered in recent years,” CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said in a Thursday statement

RELATED: U.K. competition authority targets 'illegal' deals between Actavis, Concordia 

Officials say Auden Mckenzie, the sole provider of the drug for several years, “paid off would-be competitors” to stay out of the market after acquiring generic rights to the medicine. After Actavis UK took over marketing in 2015, the company continued paying one of those companies, AMCo, authorities said. Actavis UK has since been sold to India's Intas and now goes by the name Accord-UK.

With their exclusive market position, the companies raised the price on the 10-mg and 20-mg versions of the generic drug sharply over the years, authorities say. From 2008 to 2016, the med's price grew by 10,000%, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, CMA says.

Before April 2008, England’s National Health Service was spending about £500,000 per year on the drug. By 2016, that expense grew to more than £80 million. 

Aside from the Auden Mckenzie and Actavis UK fines, authorities hit AMCo, Cinven, Amdipharm, Waymade and other companies with smaller penalties. In addition to the fines, England’s NHS can pursue damages, CMA said.

RELATED: U.K. authorities say Actavis broke competition law with 'excessive and unfair prices' on a generic 

Hydrocortisone tablets treat adrenal insufficiency including serious conditions such as Addison’s disease. 

U.K. competition authorities unveiled their probe of the hydrocortisone tablets market back in 2016. Several companies involved in Thursday’s decision have undergone sales or name changes over the years.