UK competition body accuses drug firms of excessive pricing of phenytoin capsules

The Competition and Markets Authority claims that Pfizer and Flynn Pharma have breached competition law with the price of phenytoin sodium capsules.

The on-going battle by Pfizer (logo pictured) to protect its patent of Lyrica (pregabalin) as GPs voted for “urgent” legislation to end patent protection for specific indications for branded medicines.

Pfizer and Flynn Pharma have been accused of charging “excessive and unfair” prices in the UK for phenytoin sodium capsules, an anti-epilepsy drug, according to a provisional view by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The UK’s primary competition and consumer authority claims that the companies abused a dominant position, breaching UK and EU competition law. The CMA’s objections concern both the prices charged by Pfizer to Flynn and the prices charged by Flynn to its customers since September 2012.

Prior to September 2012, the NHS spent around £2.3m on phenytoin sodium capsules annually. “This spend (paid to Flynn and other suppliers of phenytoin sodium capsules) was just over £50m in 2013 and over £40m in 2014,” the CMA says.

The capsules, used by 50,000 patients in the UK, are made by Pfizer, headquartered in New York, and supplied to Flynn, which distributes them from its base in Stevenage.

Before September 2012, Pfizer made and sold the capsules under the brand name Epanutin. Pfizer sold the UK distribution rights to Flynn, which began selling its version in September 2012. Pfizer continued to manufacture the drug, selling it to Flynn at prices that were up to 17 times higher than previously, and Flynn charged their customers up to 27 times more than those historically charged by Pfizer, alleges the CMA.

“The prices that the CMA is concerned about in this case are very high compared to those prices previously charged and have led to a big increase in the total NHS drug bill for what is a very important drug for tens of thousands of patients,” says Ann Pope, CMA senior director of antitrust enforcement.

In a statement, Pfizer said: “Ensuring a sustainable supply of our products to UK patients is of paramount importance to Pfizer and was at the heart of our decision to divest the product. Pfizer is cooperating fully with the CMA’s ongoing investigation.”

David Fakes, a Flynn Pharma director, says: “Flynn intends to cooperate fully with the CMA in this matter and to vigorously defend itself against the allegations.”

Phenytoin sodium capsules are sold in four different strengths in the UK: 25mg, 50mg, 100mg and 300mg capsules. 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 22/29 August 2015, Vol 295, No 7876/7;295(7876/7):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20069132

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