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06 August 2015

Pharma companies accused of overcharging for epilepsy drugs

Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Flynn Pharma have been criticised by the UK's competition watchdog for charging 'excessive and unfair prices' for the anti-epileptic medication phenytoin sodium capsules.

The capsules are made by Pfizer and distributed to UK pharmacies and wholesalers by Flynn Pharma. Prior to September 2012, the drugs were distributed under the brand name Epanutin® and the NHS spent approximately £2.3 million on the medication. After distribution rights were sold to Flynn Pharma, this spend increased to more than £50 million in 2013 and more than £40 million in 2014.

The  Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is considering any representations by the two drug companies before deciding whether  there has been a breach of competition law.

Third choice of drug

Epilepsy Society's medical director Professor Ley Sander  said it was vital that the CMA and drug companies should work together to conduct a thorough investigation. He also stressed that phenytoin sodium capsules tend to be a third choice of drugs when other medication has failed to work.

‘Phenytoin sodium capsules can be an important drug for many adults and children  with epilepsy, where other anti-epileptic medication has failed,' he explained.

'Phenytoin is not often prescribed as a first treatment option but more often as a third choice for adults with focal and tonic clonic seizures and for children with all types of seizures except absence seizures.

'Consistency of supply is very important for people with epilepsy, particularly with drugs such as phenytoin sodium capsules where there is a complex relationship between the dose of the drug and the amount  of the medication available in the blood.

'It is important that the pricing of these drugs is properly investigated to ensure that customers are not overcharged and that prescribers are not deterred from prescribing the drug to those who need it.’

CMA press release (opens in a new window).