CMA fines firms £3.4m and secures £1m for NHS after drug collusion probe

Four drugs firms have been fined £3.4 million with a £1 million payment to be made to the NHS for conspiring to push up prices of an anti-depressant.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said King Pharmaceuticals and the pharma arm of Auden Mckenzie colluded to fix quantities and prices for the supply of nortriptyline to a large drugs wholesaler between September 2014 and May 2015.

The competition watchdog has also hit King, Lexon’s UK business and Alissa Healthcare Research with penalties for illegally sharing commercially-sensitive information to try to keep nortriptyline prices up between 2015 and 2017.

Nortriptyline is prescribed by the NHS and relied on by thousands of patients every month to relieve the symptoms of depression.

NHS spending on the drug peaked at £38 million in 2015.

King and Auden Mckenzie have admitted breaking the law and the CMA said it was holding the new owner of Auden’s nortriptyline business – Accord-UK – responsible, despite it buying the division after the the market-sharing ended.

The CMA has fined King £75,573 and Accord-UK £1.9 million.

Accord-UK and Auden Mckenzie have also agreed to make a £1 million payment directly to the NHS.

King was fined a further £75,573, while Alissa was hit with a £174,912 penalty after admitting sharing commercial sensitive information.

But Lexon did not admit to breaking the law and has been fined £1.2 million.

The CMA also disqualified Dr Philip Hallwood, a director at King and the sole director of consultancy firm Praze, which conducted King’s corporate and commercial services during the illegal activity.

He is banned from acting as a director for any UK company for seven years, while the regulator is considering similar action against other directors involved in the scandal.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive at the CMA, said:  “These firms exchanged sensitive information and shared out supply to try and keep prices up, meaning the NHS – and ultimately the UK taxpayer – could have been paying over the odds for this vital drug.

“That’s why we’ve worked hard to secure £3.4 million in fines and another payout for the NHS.

“Today’s decisions should act as a clear warning to any pharmaceutical company that considers stifling competition and cheating the NHS.”

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