LONDON, 6 Mar (APM) - Four drugs firms have been fined a total of £3.4 million for conspiring to push up prices of an anti-depressant, the Mail Online reported on Wednesday.
A probe by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also led to £1 million payments to be made to the National Health Service (NHS) and the firing of a company director.
King Pharmaceuticals and the pharma arm of Auden Mckenzie colluded to fix quantities and prices for the supply of nortriptyline to a large drugs wholesaler, the Mail said.
King was also found to have been illegally sharing commercially sensitive information to try to keep nortriptyline prices up along with Alissa Healthcare Research and Lexon UK.
Nortriptyline is prescribed by the NHS and relied on by thousands of patients every month to relieve the symptoms of depression.
NHS spending on the drug peaked at £38million in 2015 - when illegal conspiring began, the paper said.
The CMA investigated two breaches of competition law - market sharing and information exchange.
It found that, rather than competing, King and Auden Mckenzie shared out between them the supply of nortriptyline to a large pharmaceutical wholesaler from September 2014 to May 2015.
King and Auden Mckenzie have admitted breaking the law, the Mail added.
The CMA said it was holding the new owner of Auden's nortriptyline business - Accord UK - responsible, despite it buying the division after the the market-sharing ended.
The CMA has fined King £75,573 and Accord-UK £1.9 million. On top of this, Accord-UK with Auden Mckenzie have also agreed to make a £1million payment directly to the NHS.
The CMA is also fining King, Lexon's UK business and Alissa Healthcare Research for illegally sharing commercially sensitive information.
Indian drugs body warns of Europe panic over shortages
Drugs companies in Europe were said to be "panicking" this week after India introduced limits on the export of medicines (APMHE 66450
), The Times reported on Thursday.
India, the world's biggest supplier of generic drugs, restricted the export of 26 ingredients and the medicines they create to avoid shortages at home.
Indian drugs manufacturers source almost 70% of ingredients from China and half of those restricted are from Hubei province at the heart of the outbreak, the paper reported.
Dinesh Dua, chairman of Pharmexcil, the Indian drugs export promotion body, said some of the restricted ingredients and medicines would have been exported to Europe and the U.S. "I am getting a huge number of calls from Europe because it is very sizeably dependent on Indian formulations and we control almost 26% of the European formulations in the generic space. So they are panicking," he said.
India's restricted medicines account for 10% of its total drug exports, according to the report. They include antibiotics and paracetamol. Pharmexcil has complained to India's directorate-general of foreign trade that the restrictions will affect its members and risk damaging the country's reputation as the world's pharmacy. Its members include Glaxosmithkline and Astrazeneca.
However, Warwick Smith, director-general of the British Generic Manufacturers Association, said: "Due to the high levels of active pharmaceutical ingredients held by manufacturers, our assessment remains that it is extremely unlikely that disruption due to covid-19 will impact medicines supplies in the UK in the short to medium term."
The UK government said this week that India's action applied to 1% of the country's pharmaceuticals exports, The Times added.
UK's 'battle plan' to beat coronavirus
Several papers on Sunday said that the government is refusing to rule out placing entire cities on lockdown if the UK experiences a widespread coronavirus outbreak.
The Financial Times reported that the British government could ban mass gatherings, close schools and urge people to avoid public transport to halt the spread of coronavirus, health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.
The Independent also reported that Matt Hancock said he would not take anything "off the table at this stage" when asked about a Wuhan-style quarantine by BBC's Andrew Marr on Sunday.
"There's clearly a huge economic and social downside to that but we don’t take anything off the table at this stage because you’ve got to make sure that you have all of the tools available if that is what’s necessary," he said.
The Telegraph reported on Friday that there are 116 confirmed cases in the UK, as officials confirmed the first death from the virus in the UK, a patient in Berkshire in the south of England, understood to be a woman in her 70s.
The FT on Wednesday said a fifth of the UK workforce could be absent during "peak weeks" of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the government's "battle plan" for dealing with the virus.
Police and fire rescue services could be forced to concentrate only on "critical functions" and the NHS would delay all non-urgent care if the disease became widespread, according to the document.
"It is highly likely we will see a growing number of UK cases," warned prime minister Boris Johnson as he unveiled the plan at a press conference from Downing Street.
But he added: "For the vast majority of people in this country, we should go about business as usual."
England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty, who is helping to lead the government's response, said it was "likely, not definite, that we will move on to onward transmission and an epidemic here in the UK", the Guardian reported on Wednesday.
Whitty said there was now a "slim to zero" chance of avoiding a global pandemic which could see "huge pressure" on the NHS, making it impossible for everyone who needs a bed to get one, The Telegraph says on Friday.
New FDA policy will expand coronavirus testing
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took new steps to sharply expand testing for the novel coronavirus by allowing certain hospital laboratories to use their own tests before they are cleared by the agency.
The action, which also covers commercial labs, followed complaints from academic medical centers that the previous policy, which required prior approval of the lab tests, was too burdensome and slow and was impeding efforts to diagnose cases of the coronavirus.
Experts have warned that the small number of U.S. cases so far may be a reflection of limited testing, not of the virus' spread. Testing has been hobbled because of problems, now being corrected, involving the only test that had been cleared by the FDA, one created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Thermofisher buys Qiagen
The Financial Times on Tuesday reported that Thermo Fisher has agreed to buy Dutch diagnostics group Qiagen in an $11.5 billion deal (APMHE 66419
), as the U.S. scientific equipment maker expands its disease-testing capabilities amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak.
The group, which has a market capitalisation of around $122 billion and provides diagnostic tools, said buying the Dutch company would allow it to strengthen its portfolio, notably in testing for infectious diseases.
Qiagen is developing kits to test for Covid-19, which has infected more than 90,000 people globally and killed more than 3,000. It previously provided testing equipment that was used during the Sars and swine flu outbreaks.
NMC Health founder mulls sale of Neopharma to save debt-hit empire
The founder of NMC Health is considering a sale of his pharmaceuticals business as he tries to salvage his dwindling assets and cut debts, The Times reported on Wednesday.
Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty is said to have received preliminary expressions of interest for Neopharma from trade and private equity suitors.
Neopharma is valued at between $700 million to $1 billion, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the interest. However, a sale could be complicated by a review by Glaxosmithkline of its contract with Neopharma.
GSK signed a five-year contract with Neopharma in the United Arab Emirates last year, but The Times reported last month that it was being reconsidered amid the scandal at NMC, the FTSE 100 private hospitals company founded by Shetty. The possible sale is understood to form part of a review of Shetty's portfolio by Houlihan Lokey, the investment bank.
An abrupt sale would underline the struggles of Shetty, who only last year was publicly talking up the prospect of floating Neopharma on the London Stock Exchange.
The expansion of Shetty's empire has been hit by the crisis at NMC, which was triggered in December by Muddy Waters, the U.S. short-seller, which raised concerns about its cash, debt and assets. The crisis deepened last week when initial findings of an inquiry for NMC found that businesses controlled by Shetty, 77, allegedly had accessed $335 million in off-balance sheet financing without the knowledge of the board.