CMA to investigate supply of bipolar drug

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will investigate whether the pharmaceutical company Essential Pharma has abused a dominant position in relation to lithium-based medicines for treating bipolar disorder, which it sells under the brand names ‘Priadel’ and ‘Camcolit’, by proposing to withdraw the supply of Priadel to UK patients. The withdrawal of Priadel would mean that thousands of patients need to switch to alternative, more expensive, lithium treatments, such as Camcolit.

The vast majority of patients in the UK taking a lithium-based drug to manage their symptoms rely on Priadel. The proposed removal of Priadel prompted serious concern from medical bodies and charities who said that switching bipolar medication can be a difficult process for patients and may cause health complications, as well as significantly raising costs. This is particularly concerning at a time when the national health service is under unprecedented pressure because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had requested that the CMA impose ‘interim measures’ to pause the withdrawal of Priadel while the investigation is ongoing. However, following the opening of the CMA’s investigation, Essential Pharma has informed DHSC that it will continue to supply the drug to facilitate discussions on pricing, removing the immediate threat to patients. The CMA’s investigation remains open as the threat of withdrawal remains unless a satisfactory agreement is reached on price.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA said:

Thousands of people across the UK rely on lithium-based drugs to manage bipolar disorder, so it’s important that we protect their interests by scrutinising potential competition concerns to reach a fair conclusion as quickly as possible.

We welcome Essential Pharma’s decision to continue supply for the time being, while it tries to reach an agreement with the Department of Health and Social Care on price.

The investigation by the CMA is ongoing and no decision has been made as to whether the law has been broken.

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