Tribunal upholds £130M fine after UK authorities probed 10,000% price hike

Auden Mckenzie and Actavis UK—now known as Accord-UK—will remain on the hook to pay hefty fines for their roles in introducing costly price hikes on hydrocortisone tablets.

In a judgment published Monday, the U.K.’s Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) upheld previous findings by the country’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that multiple drugmakers had charged “excessive and unfair prices” for generic hydrocortisone over the course of 10 years.

Hydrocortisone tablets treat adrenal insufficiency, including serious conditions such as Addison’s disease. In the U.K., the medicine is funded by England’s National Health Service. 

The tribunal’s decision comes a little more than two years after CMA doled out fines worth more than 260 million pounds sterling ($360 million) to more than 10 pharmaceutical companies. The punishment followed a long-running investigation by the U.K. into the steep cost of hydrocortisone.

From 2008 to 2016, the med’s price grew by 10,000%, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, CMA said previously.

British officials argued that Auden, the sole provider of hydrocortisone tablets 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, authorities said in 2021. 

Actavis UK has since been sold to India’s Intas and now goes by the name Accord-UK.

In its latest press release, CMA notes that Auden and Actavis’ action “amounted to an abuse of dominant position” and that the companies were “charging excessive and unfair prices for hydrocortisone tablets.” The drugmakers are subject to fines of almost 130 million pounds (about $161 million) after the tribunal review, the agency said.

The 130 million pound fine is only a portion of what Auden and Actavis may ultimately have to pay. The companies’ fines previously totaled 266.5 million pounds (about $330.2 million) related both to market dominance and collusion charges. The judgment announced Monday deals only with abuse of dominance findings.

The tribunal has reserved its judgment regarding the companies’ appeal against the CMA’s findings on collusion.

Meanwhile, the tribunal found that Actavis UK’s former parent company, Allergan, shouldn’t have to pay a penalty for the period it owned Actavis UK because that company acted independently. 

U.K. competition authorities unveiled their probe of the hydrocortisone tablets market back in 2016.