U.K. competition watchdog targets pharma for 'substantial fines'

Alex Chisholm

Look out, pharma: Britain's competition watchdog is coming for you.

The U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is planning to levy "substantial fines" this year, marking a "big step up in the scale and impact" of its enforcement activity, Alex Chisholm, head of the agency, told the Financial Times. And one of those fines will likely be directed at a pharma company, Chisholm said.

The CMA has been probing drugmakers including GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer ($PFE) for alleged wrongdoing. "In high-value markets with big players, they should face big fines," Chisholm said, as quoted by the FT.

Back in 2011, the CMA slapped GSK with a pay-for-delay case for supposedly paying smaller pharma companies including Alpharma, Generics UK and Ivax to wait before selling cheaper versions of its antidepressant Paxil. The CMA expects to resolve the case next month, according to the FT story.

For Pfizer, though, a resolution could still be a ways off. In August, the CMA accused the drugmaker and partner Flynn Pharma of running afoul of U.K. and European laws by jacking up costs for their epilepsy drug, phenytoin sodium. The pair charged "excessive and unfair prices" for the capsules, the CMA said at the time, raising costs by as much as 2,600%. Regulators plan to hand down a decision in the case in about three months, the FT reports.

"While businesses are generally free to set prices as they see fit, those that hold a dominant position have a special responsibility to ensure that their conduct does not impair genuine competition and that their prices are not excessive and unfair," Ann Pope, the CMA's senior director of antitrust enforcement, said in August.

The CMA also recently started another probe against another, unnamed pharma company, the FT notes. But the agency is keeping quiet about its plans for that case.

- read the FT story (reg. req.)

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