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a westminster imageMay 23 2018

Generic drug manufacturer Concordia has been singled out for criticism in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons. 

Sir Vince Cable MP raised concerns about how much liothyronine, also known as T3, costs to the NHS. While an estimated 50,000 patients may benefit from the drug, only around 6,000 people are being prescribed it. 

“The roots of this problem lie in the charging and costings for this drug,” said Sir Vince. “There is a monopoly supplier, Concordia, a company that was originally called Goldshield. The word ‘gold’ was probably so obviously embarrassing, given the way it treated this as a goldmine, that it changed the name to Mercury Pharma, and it has subsequently been changed to Concordia.

“Some 10 years ago, this company originally produced a packet of these drugs for about £4.50, but the cost then increased to £258 for the same product, which is an escalation of about 6,000%. The NHS was originally spending some £600,000 a year on this drug, but I established through parliamentary questions that in the past three years it has spent successively £22 million, £33 million and £30 million.”

He acknowledged that the Government has challenged other drug manufacturers over costs in the courts and in the past year had made two specific interventions on liothyronine, the first of which was to refer the matter to the Competition and Markets Authority so that it could examine the “abuse” of pricing. 

“The CMA has provisionally reported that the drug company has been seriously abusing the market and charging excessively,” he said.

Sir Vince also asked that the Government investigate the possibility of importing liothyronine from other European countries, where other generic versions from different manufacturers are available and prices are much lower. 

Responding to the debate, Health Minister Steve Brine MP said: “For unbranded generics, the Government encourage competition between suppliers to keep prices down. However, as we know, Concordia—the manufacturer—is currently the subject of an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority over how much it was charging the Government and taxpayers. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the CMA has provisionally found that Concordia abused its dominant position, overcharging the NHS millions of pounds for its tablets.

“As the right hon. Gentleman rightly put on the record, the CMA’s findings are provisional at this stage. There has been no definitive decision that there has been a breach of competition law, and the CMA will carefully consider any representations from the companies concerned before deciding whether the law has in fact been broken. Where companies have breached competition law, the Department of Health and Social Care will seek damages and invest that money back into the NHS.”

Mr Brine pointed out that there are now multiple marketing authorisations for liothyronine which he hoped would introduce competition in the UK, resulting in a price decrease. He also said he would look into the point about obtaining cheaper supplies from overseas.

Hansard: House of Commons adjournment debate ‘Hypothyroidism’ May 21 2018         
Hansard: House of Commons. ‘Thyroid Diseases: Drugs: Written question – 143640’       

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