The European Commission’s investigation comes a short time after Italian Competition Authority (ICA), which fined Aspen Pharma over €5 million in September 2016 for charging allegedly excessive prices for four of its cancer drugs (Alkeran (melphalan), Leukeran (chlorambucil), Purinethol (mercaptopurine) and Tioguanine (thioguanine)). The European Commission will be investigating whether Aspen has abused a dominant market position in breach of EU antitrust rules.
The investigation concerns Aspen’s pricing practices for niche medicines containing the active pharmaceutical ingredients chlorambucil, melphalan, mercaptopurine, tioguanine and busulfan. The medicines in question 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 will investigate information indicating that Aspen has 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 actually done so in certain cases.
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “When we get sick, we may depend on specific drugs to save or prolong our lives. 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.”
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.