Two Indian-origin millionaire brothers were today embroiled in a controversy for allegedly exploiting a loophole in Britain’s state-run National Health Service’s pricing controls to overcharge for the sale of generic drugs, according to a media report.
Bhikhu and Vijay Patel, the founders of pharmaceutical empire Waymade Plc, have been named in a special ‘Times’ investigation for charging “extortionate” prices for drugs by dropping an existing brand name of a medicine and instead selling it under its generic name.
The investigation claims that Atnahs, a company the brothers set up in 2013, specialises in buying the rights to older medications that are still used by patients but are no longer of interest to major pharmaceutical companies to be able to overcharge for the same drug, ultimately paid by the UK taxpayer.
“Waymade is not commenting on today’s news,” a company spokesperson told PTI.
The Kenya-born businessmen are well-known in the UK’s British-Indian circuit for their rags-to-riches story, having arrived in the 1960s with not much in their pockets and going on to set up a profitable pharmaceuticals empire.
Bhikhu, 68, and his brother 66-year-old brother Vijay have risen up the ranks of The Sunday Times ‘Rich List’ over the years, with their personal wealth pegged at 675 million pounds in 2016.
The businessmen, based in Essex – a county north-east of England, also have a property portfolio and own a company offering chauffeur-driven cars.
They also run the charitable Shanta Foundation, which funds educational and medical projects in Kenya and India.
UK’s Department of Health said the country’s Competition and Markets Authority is investigating abuse of generic medicine pricing, but there is no indication that the Patels’ firm is among them.
A spokesperson said: “No pharmaceutical company should be exploiting the NHS. The Competition and Markets Authority is already investigating a potential abuse of generics pricing, and as part of a public consultation we have asked for views on government powers to limit the prices of generic medicines where there is no competitive market.”
According to the latest findings, the NHS is paying an extra 262 million pounds a year for more than 50 drugs for which prices have increased greatly since 2010.
The tactics identified are technically legal but come at a time when the NHS budget is already under unprecedented stress.
“We are concerned about these type of anomalies at a time when the NHS needs to make significant savings, which suggests further regulatory action may be needed,” an NHS England spokesperson told ‘The Times’ in reference to its investigation.
The procedure typically involves the firms buying the exclusive marketing rights to medicines of no interest to big pharmaceutical companies any more.
By then dropping the brand names and selling the medicines under their generic names instead, the companies are able to take advantage of a loophole in NHS pricing controls.
The drugs move from Category C, where manufacturers face a profit cap, to Category A, for which the Department of Health sets a reimbursement price based on cost information from two wholesalers.
A lack of competition in the market for the drugs means that the companies can charge as much as they like.
A few other companies behind major price increases include Amdipharm, previously owned by the Patels, Mercury Pharma and Auden Mckenzie.
Two of the companies, Amdipharm and Mercury, were taken over and merged by a European private equity firm in late 2012.
There is no indication that any of the firms named by the newspaper are under investigation by the UK’s regulator – the Competition and Markets Authority.