The European Commission has opened a formal investigation into Aspen Pharma’s pricing of five life-saving cancer drugs. The global pharmaceutical company is accused of abusing its dominant market position in breach of EU antitrust rules.
“When we get sick, we may depend on specific drugs to save or prolong our lives,” said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy. “Companies should be rewarded for producing these pharmaceuticals to ensure that they keep making them into the future. But when the price of a drug suddenly goes up by several hundred percent, this is something the Commission may look at. More specifically, in this case we will be assessing whether Aspen is breaking EU competition rules by charging excessive prices for a number of medicines.”
According to a European Commission press release, Aspen’s behaviour may be in breach of the EU’s antitrust rules (Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Article 54 of the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement, which forbid the imposition of unfair prices or unfair trading conditions on customers.
This is the Commission’s first investigation into concerns about excessive pricing practices in the pharmaceutical industry.
More specifically, the Commission’s investigation concerns Aspen’s pricing practices for niche medicines containing the active pharmaceutical ingredients chlorambucil, melphalan, mercaptopurine, tioguanine and busulfan. These are used for treating cancer, such as hematologic tumours. They are sold with different formulations and under multiple brand names. Aspen acquired these medicines after their patent protection had expired.
The Commission’s investigation will consider information suggesting that Aspen imposed very significant and unjustified price increases of up to several hundred percent, so-called ‘price gouging’. The Commission has information that, for example, to impose such price increases, Aspen has threatened to withdraw the medicines in question in some Member States and has done so in certain cases.
The investigation covers all the EEA except Italy, where the Italian competition authority already adopted an infringement decision against Aspen, which is headquartered in South Africa, last year.
As reported by Bloomberg, Aspen has responded by confirming that it “takes compliance with competition laws very seriously and will work constructively with the European Commission in its process.”