On 15 May 2017, the EC opened an
investigation into Aspen, a South African-based global pharmaceutical company,
to ascertain whether it is abusing its dominant position. Following
consultations with stakeholders held during the 2020 summer about the commitments
offered by the manufacturer, the EC was able to accept these commitments on 10
Aspen, a pharmaceutical company, acquired
the rights to several medicinal products and another company prior to 2012.
Aspen won a dominant position in the market for certain therapies through
acquiring the rights to medicinal products used mainly for the treatment of
leukaemia and other haematological cancers.
Due to the frequent lack of suitable
alternatives for treating cancer, Aspen has been able to push through price
increases for specific cancer medicines within the Member States, where the
products are marketed. The medicinal products in question include those sold
under the Alkeran, Leukeran and Purinethol brand names.
Commission investigation of pricing and distribution policies
The EC's study of the revenue data revealed
that the revenue from the sale of these medicinal products within the European
Economic Area was "very high" in absolute terms and in comparison
with the revenue of similar companies in the sector. Prices were on average
around 300 percent above the relevant costs after a reasonable return was taken
The associated high profits and subsequent
excessive burden on health and social systems in Europe could not be explained.
As the patent protection for the Aspen medicaments concerned expired 50 years
ago, it can now be assumed that the R&D costs have been fully amortised.
Aspen also used its dominant market
position against the national authorities, which tried to oppose the price
increases. The company threatened to have the medicines removed from national
lists of reimbursable medicinal products and it also expressed a willingness to
withdraw the medicines from sale in the Member States concerned.
This pricing and distribution policy
prompted the EC to investigate the matter as a breach of EU antitrust
EC accepts commitments from the manufacturer
The antitrust regulations provide that
companies subject to an investigation by the EC may offer commitments in order
to meet the Commission's concerns. The corresponding undertaking made in July 2020 was published in the Official
Journal of the European Union.
At that time, the National Association of
Statutory Health Insurance Funds took a stand and advocated that the EC take up
the abuse of a dominant position in the pharmaceutical market. However, the
price reduction would have to include compensation for the damage caused in the
past due to the excessive prices.
On 10 February 2021, the EC accepted the undertaking provided by the manufacturer. Accordingly, the
Commission accepts the reduction of the prices for six unpatented cancer
medicines by 73 percent as well as a longer-term supply commitment with these