Aspen admits 1,800% U.K. price hike was wrong—and it'll pay $10M in penance

U.K.'s CMA has outlined provisional findings that Aspen and other two drugmakers broke competition law by illegally sharing the market. (Pixabay)

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority has its hands full with pharma companies lately. Shortly after two competitors admitted to sharing “sensitive” info to keep prices high, the regulator has homed in on an 1,800% price hike thanks to "illegal market sharing" between three companies.

In 2016, Aspen agreed to pay potential rivals Amilco and Tiofarma to stay out of the U.K. market for fludrocortisone acetate tablets, which treat Addison’s disease, CMA said Thursday.

Not only did Aspen get to keep its monopoly thanks to that deal, but it also used its status as the exclusive NHS supplier to raise prices by 1,800%, CMA's early findings show. In exchange for its willingness to stay out of the market, Tiofarma became the sole manufacturer for fludrocortisone for direct sale in the U.K. And Amilco, for its part, received 30% of sale proceeds from the higher prices, according to the agency. 

Aspen in August admitted to taking part in the arrangement, CMA says, and it agreed to pay a maximum £2.1 million penalty if the CMA found there was a competition law violation. The other companies haven’t admitted wrongdoing. Aspen agreed to pay NHS £8 million ($9.9 million) and guarantee that there will be at least two fludrocortisone suppliers in the future.  

CMA executive director of enforcement Michael Grenfell said in a statement his agency is “pleased" to accept Aspen's payment to the NHS.

"This highlights the importance of competition in making sure the NHS, and so ultimately U.K. taxpayers, do not pay more than they should for medicines,” he added. 

RELATED: Pharma companies admit to sharing 'sensitive' info to keep prices high 

The findings come right after King Pharmaceuticals and Alissa Healthcare Research admitted to sharing “commercially sensitive information” to keep prices high on antidepressant drug nortriptyline. The investigation against a third company is ongoing.  

Before that, Pfizer faced a probe over a 2,600% price hike that initially resulted in an £84.2 million ($104.5 million) fine that was ultimately overturned.

In 2016, officials ordered GlaxoSmithKline to pay £37.6 million ($46.7 million) over deals with generics companies to delay competition. The following year, the CMA targeted similar agreements between Actavis and Concordia meant to delay competition to hydrocortisone tablets.