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Italian pharma scandals prompts call for EU-wide pricing probe

Aspen fined €5.2m for threat to halt supply of cancer drugs if price hikes not accepted

The Italian authorities have fined South African drugmaker Aspen €5.2m for abusing a dominant position in the market for cancer drugs, leading to calls for an EU-wide probe into a possible link between drug shortages and inflated pricing.

Aspen was accused of effectively blackmailing the Italian regulatory agency AIFA in the case, threatening to interrupt supply of four essential cancer drugs - acquired from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) - if it did not accept price increases of between 300% and 1500%.

The products - Leukeran (chlorambucil), Alkeran (melphalan), Purinethol (mercaptopurine) and Tioguanine (tioguanine) - are "life-saving and irreplaceable drugs" that are particularly important for the treatment of cancer in children and elderly people, said AIFA in a statement.

"The negotiation strategy adopted by Aspen was so aggressive as to reach the credible threat of interrupting the direct supply of the drugs to the Italian market," it added. The company's actions made it "impossible [to reach] a real and fair negotiation over the price reimbursements of these drugs which are paid by the National Health Care System".

The case against Aspen's Italian subsidiary was first launched in 2014, which according to consumer group Altroconsumo "disappeared from the market after Aspen Pharma acquired ownership, then reappeared at higher prices".

Altroconsumo, which is part of the consumer advocacy network BEUC, earlier this year called for wide-ranging action to stem price increases for medicines saying they are rising year-on-year "especially when there is no therapeutic alternative".

"We are dismayed by this kind of pernicious practice which puts profits before consumers' health," commented BEUC's Illaria Passarani. "The impact on consumers is not only serious but also unjustified."

BEUC wants the European Commission to launch an investigation into drug shortages - which Passarani says are now commonplace in the EU - to examine whether they are due to factors such as manufacturing or supply problems or are being used as a tactic to secure higher reimbursement prices.

Article by
Phil Taylor

18th October 2016

From: Sales, Regulatory



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