Photograph of tablets

Canadian company may have overcharged NHS by millions for essential thyroid drug

A drugs firm may have overcharged the NHS by millions of pounds for an essential thyroid drug, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has said.

The CMA on Tuesday said that it had investigated Canadian company Concordia and found that in 2016, the NHS had spent more than £34m on liothyronine tablets, which marks an increase from around £600,000 in 2006.

The amount it paid per pack of the pills rose from around £4.46 before the drug was de-branded in 2007, to £258.19 by July 2017, the CMA said – an increase of almost 6,000 per cent. Production costs during that time remained broadly stable.

Liothyronine tablets are mainly used to treat hypothyroidism, which is a condition caused by a deficiency of thyroid hormone. It affect at least two in every one hundred people and can lead to depression, tiredness and weight gain, the CMA said.

Although liothyronine tablets are not the primary treatment for hypothyroidism, for many patients there is no suitable alternative. Until earlier this year, Concordia was the only supplier of the drug.

“Pharmaceutical companies which abuse their position and overcharge for drugs are forcing the NHS – and the UK taxpayer – to pay over the odds for important medical treatments,” said CMA Chief Executive, Andrea Coscelli.

“We allege that Concordia used its market dominance in the supply of liothyronine tablets to do exactly that,” he said.

Mr Coscelli said that, at this stage of the investigation, the CMA’s findings are provisional and there has been no definitive decision on whether there had been a breach of competition law.

“We will carefully consider any representations from the companies before deciding whether the law has in fact been broken,” he said.

Commenting on the CMA’s report, Concordia said in a statement that it did not believe that competition law had been infringed.

“The pricing of liothyronine has been conducted openly and transparently with the Department of Health in the UK over a period of ten years. Over that time, significant investment has been made in this medicine to ensure its continued availability for patients in the UK, to the specifications required by the medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency in the UK,” it said.

It added that it was working “co-operatively” with the CMA as it proceeds with its investigations.

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