The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has imposed a record fine of £84m on the American pharmaceutical manufacturing company Pfizer and of £5.2m on its UK distributor, Flynn Pharma. The CMA found that the companies charged unfair prices to the NHS for phenytoin sodium capsules, the anti-epilepsy drug.
The price was previously regulated, but Pfizer deliberately de-branded the drug in September 2012 and immediately raised the price to Flynn Pharma by between 780% and 1600%, which, in turn, raised the price to the NHS by nearly 2600%. This made the drug many times more expensive than in any other European country.
The cost to the NHS rose from around £2m per year to around £50m in 2013. Although other generic drugs are available, there would be serious health risks to patients forced to switch drugs. The NHS thus had no alternative to paying the higher price.
Pfizer claimed that the drug was loss-making before it was de-branded. However, the CMA calculated that this did not justify the size of the price increase; that the higher price enabled Pfizer to recover all these claimed losses within just two months.
The usual practice is for pharmaceutical companies to charge high prices for new drugs for a period of time to enable them to recover high research and development costs. Later, the drugs become available as generic drugs that other manufacturers can produce. The price then normally falls dramatically.
Phenytoin sodium was invented many years ago and there has been no recent innovation and no significant investment. But, unlike with many other drugs, there has been no switching by the NHS because of possible dangers to patients. This has given Pfizer and its distributor considerable market power. As the CMA states in its press release:
Epilepsy patients who are already taking phenytoin sodium capsules should not usually be switched to other products, including another manufacturer’s version of the product, due to the risk of loss of seizure control which can have serious health consequences. As a result, the NHS had no alternative to paying the increased prices for the drug.
In conclusion, the CMA found that “both companies have held a dominant position in their respective markets for the manufacture and supply of phenytoin sodium capsules and each has abused that dominant position by charging excessive and unfair prices”.
Pfizer fined record £84.2m for overcharging NHS 2600% Independent, Zlata Rodionova (7/12/16)
Pfizer fined record £84.2m over NHS overcharging The Guardian, Angela Monaghan (7/12/16)
CMA fines drug firms £90m for over-charging NHS nhe (7/12/16)
Pfizer hit with record fine after hiking price of NHS epilepsy drug by 2,600pc – costing taxpayer millions The Telegraph (7/12/16)
Pfizer, Flynn Get Record Fine on 2,600% Drug Price Increase Bloomberg, Patrick Gower (7/12/16)
Phenytoin sodium capsules: suspected unfair pricing Competition and Markets Authority: Case reference: CE/9742-13, Competition and Markets Authority cases (updated 7/12/16)
CMA fines Pfizer and Flynn £90 million for drug price hike to NHS CMA Press Release (7/12/16)
- What are the arguments for drug companies being allowed to charge high prices for new drugs?
- How long should these high prices persist?
- Sketch a diagram to illustrate Pfizer’s price for its anti-epilepsy drug before and after it was de-branded. Illustrate the effect on Pfizer’s profits from the drug.
- What determines the price elasticity of demand for (a) a drug which is branded and unique; (b) a drug produced by a specific producer but which is generic and can be produced by a number of producers; (c) a generic drug produced by many producers?
- How should a regulator like the CMA decide what price a firm with market power should be allowed to charge?
- Under what legislation did the CMA fine Pfizer and Flynn Pharma? What is the upper limit to the fine it is able to impose? Did it impose the maximum fine on Pfizer?
When Kraft took over Cadbury, it was seen as a large take-over, but its size pales in comparison to the potential takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer. However, having made two offers for the UK drugs firm, the US company has been rejected twice, saying the terms of the offer were ‘inadequate, substantially undervalue AstraZeneca and are not a basis on which to engage with Pfizer.’
Pfizer initially made an offer of £46.61 per share, valuing the company at £58.5bn, but this latest offer increased the share price to around £50 and raised the company value to £63bn. The rejection was relatively swift and the price still too low, though analysts are suggesting that a price closer to £53 may tempt shareholders. At the moment the negotiations between these two giants remain ‘friendly’, but with this second offer being rejected by the Board, there are now concerns that the takeover could become ‘hostile’ with Pfizer going directly to shareholders. Indeed one investor has said:
We were very keen that the two boards actually get around the table and disucss the bid … I’m never very keen when companies just dismiss things and don’t allow shareholders to take a decision on it … The key thing is that these businesses get talking to each other so they can hammer out a deal.
Following the second offer, shares in AstraZeneca rose by 10p, as the debate continued as to whether such a take-over would be good or bad for British jobs.
Cadbury was seen as a jewel in the crown of British industry and the same can be said of AstraZeneca, especially with the growing importance placed on the Science sector in the UK. While Pfizer has now given the British government further assurances about protection for Britain’s science base, there are still concerns about what this take-over would mean for British jobs. Pfizer has said that 20% of the company’s workforce in research and development would work in the UK and the planned R&D base in Cambridge would still go ahead. However, asset-stripping is a phrase that has been thrown around, based on Pfizer’s previous take-overs and, based on this history, many are suggesting that any assurances made by Pfizer will be pointless. In particular, Allan Black from the GMB union said:
Similar undertakings were given by US multinationals before which have proved to be worthless.
This was echoed by Lord Sainsbury who commented that any assurances made by Pfizer would be ‘frankly meaningless’. However, Vince Cable seems more confident about the consequences for British industry and said:
We’ve now received some assurances from the company that they will strengthen the British science base, they will protect British manufacturing … We need to look at that in detail, we need to look at the small print, we need to establish that it is binding, but as far as it goes, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, it is welcome and encouraging.
We therefore seem to have a tale of two stories. On the one hand, the assurances of a US company that British jobs and its science base will be protected, but on the other hand, suggestions that we should take Pfizer’s assurances with a pinch of salt and that any take-over could be ‘devastating’. The truth of the matter will only be known if and when the take-over goes ahead and perhaps more importantly, whether it remains friendly and co-operative or does indeed go ‘hostile’. The following articles consider this medical take-over between giants.
AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer bid as US Pharma giant courts UK government The Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Sean Farrell (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects new Pfizer offer BBC News (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca Pfizer: major shareholder urges talks The Telegraph, Denise Roland (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer’s raised bid of 63 billion pounds Reuters (2/5/14)
Pfizer-AstraZeneca offer: IoD warns intervention ‘disastrous’ for Britain. The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (2/5/14)
Pfizer enters takeover discussions with AstraZeneca, sources say Wall Street Journal (2/5/14)
Exclusive: Pfizer insider warns that takeover of AstraZeneca could be ‘devastating’ Independent, Jim Armitage and Chris Green (2/5/14)
The Cadbury deal: how it changed takeovers BBC News, Ben Morris (2/5/14)
Pfizer set to make higher bid for AstraZeneca The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (1/5/14)
The UK’s response to Pfizer’s takeover bid is incoherent and misguided The Guardian, Larry Elliott (4/5/14)
- What type of take-over would this be classified as? Explain your answer.
- What would occur if the take-over became ‘hostile’?
- Using a demand and supply diagram, explain why share prices in AstraZeneca went up by 10p on the day the second offer was made.
- How would such a take-over affect British jobs?
- Explain how this proposed take-over could (a) boost British R&D in science and (b) harm British R&D in science.
- To what extent might there be concerns from the competition authorities were this take-over to go ahead? How might such a takeover affect Pfizer’s market share and hence its ability to charge a high price?