In United Kingdom Aspen Extricates Itself from Cartel-Based Proceedings But Excessive Pricing Procedures Around Europe Have Not Yet All Been Finished
On 3 October 2019, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) issued a Statement of Objections against Aspen of South-Africa, UK based company Amilco and Dutch firm Tiofarma (see, attached press release). The three companies are accused of illegal market sharing. Aspen would have agreed to pay Amilco and Tiofarma to stay out of the UK market for fludrocortisone acetate tablets (“FAT”). This prescription-only medicine is indicated for the treatment of primary and secondary adrenal insufficiency, known as Addison’s Disease. Aspen thus supposedly cordoned off its UK monopoly in relation to the supply of FAT and, in the process, was allegedly able to increase its prices for the product by up to 1,800%.
Amilco and Tiofarma deny any wrongdoing and will contest the charges. By contrast, Aspen has already admitted that it took part in the anticompetitive arrangement and is prepared to pay the maximum penalty of GBP 2.1 million.
Earlier, in August 2019, Aspen had also offered commitments to remedy a related competition law violation stemming from the purchase in October 2016 of the marketing authorisations of a competing fludrocortisone product from Tiofarma (see, attached press release). The CMA has now accepted these commitments which involve the payment of GBP 8 million to the National Health Service (“NHS”) and the assurance that in future there will be at least two suppliers of fludrocortisone on the market to help the NHS benefit from more competitive prices.
The succession of events in the procedure before the CMA sheds a new light on Aspen’s business conduct in Europe. Aspen was among the first pharmaceutical firms to come under competition scrutiny on account of allegedly excessive and therefore abusive pricing conduct with respect to various medicines. It had to face inquiries by the European Commission and by the Italian, Spanish and UK competition authorities. In Italy, it was given a fine of more than EUR 5 million in September 2016. In the UK, it is at this point unclear whether or not the CMA will continue to pursue its excessive pricing probe against Aspen. The similar case before the European Commission is understood to be pending. Lastly, the Spanish case was closed because the Spanish Authority considered that it lacked jurisdiction.