The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally found that three drug firms - Aspen, Amilco and Tiofarmasigned -signed an illegal agreement that resulted in significant price hikes for an essential medicine.

The provisional view says that Aspen agreed to unlawfully pay the two other firms in 2016 to stay out of the UK market for fludrocortisone acetate tablets, a prescription only medicine that thousands of patients rely on to treat primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency, commonly known as Addison’s Disease.

The alleged illegal agreement protected Aspen’s UK monopoly in relation to the supply of the drug to the NHS and gave the firm the opportunity to increase prices by up to 1,800%.

The CMA has provisionally found that Tiofarma and Amilco colluded with Aspen by agreeing to stay out of the market so that Aspen could maintain its position as the sole UK supplier of fludrocortisone.  In exchange, it is alleged that Tiofarma was made the sole manufacturer of fludrocortisone for direct sale in the UK, and Amilco received a 30% share of the increased prices that Aspen was able to charge.

Should the CMA ultimately conclude that there has been an infringement, Aspen has also agreed to a maximum penalty of £2.1 million and Amilco and Tiofarma have made no admission.

Aspen, for the first time as part of such a package, has offered to pay the NHS £8 million, as well as ensuring that in the future, there will be at least two suppliers of fludrocortisone in the UK to help the NHS access more competitive prices.

Michael Grenfell, executive director, enforcement, at the Competition and Markets Authority, said that the NHS “should not be denied the opportunity of benefitting from an increased choice of suppliers, and so potential savings on what it spends on essential drugs.

“The CMA is also pleased formally to accept Aspen’s £8 million payment to the NHS in response to competition concerns about a related arrangement they made for supplying this medicine, which the NHS will receive in 20 working days. This highlights the importance of competition in making sure the NHS, and so ultimately UK taxpayers, do not pay more than they should for medicines.”

The CMA has also announced that Amilco and Tiofarma now have the opportunity to respond to the organisation’s provisional findings.