Pharmaceutical companies Concordia International (TSE:CXR) and Actavis UK have been accused of illegally colluding to keep prices of hydrocortisone tablets high in the UK.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) claims Actavis UK, which is now owned by India's Intas Pharmaceuticals, and Canadian company Concordia, were responsible for a significant rise in the price of the tablets in the UK between 2013 and 2016.
The price per pack rose from £49 to £88 over the period, which the CMA said deprived thousands of patients and raised costs for the NHS.
Actavis, then known as Auden McKenzie, allegedly persuaded Concordia’s former Amdipharm business from entering the market with its own competing generic version of the tablets.
In turn Actavis was believed to have given Amdipharm a fixed supply of the tablets, which are used to treat deficiencies like Addison’s disease, at a low price.
That made Actavis the sole supplier of the tablets between 2008 and 2015 and helped the company to keep prices high.
The CMA’s senior officer Andrew Groves said: “Anti-competitive agreements can cost the NHS, and ultimately the taxpayer, by stopping competition bringing down the cost of life-saving drugs like hydrocortisone tablets.
“We allege these agreements were intended to keep Actavis UK as the sole supplier of a drug relied on by thousands of patients and in a position which could allow it to dictate and prolong high prices.”
Concordia said in a statement the company was not in breach of competition law and was reviewing the CMA’s claims.
"We are cooperating fully with the CMA in this investigation. We believe that the supply arrangement between Auden McKenzie, which was acquired by Actavis in 2015, and Amdipharm for full-indication 10mg hydrocortisone tablets did not infringe competition law."
Actavis owner Intas was not available for comment.
The CMA has been cracking down on drug pricing, investigating three other cases in the past year.
In a separate investigation of Actavis in December, the CMA accused the company of pricing its hydrocortisone tablets too high in its supply to the NHS.
Also in December, the CMA fined Pfizer and Flynn Pharma almost £90mln for charging excessive prices for the anti-epilepsy drug phenytoin sodium.
The watchdog in February last year fined several pharmaceutical firms £45mln for anti-competitive agreements in the supply of paroxetine, an anti-depressant.