Spain fines drugmaker for grossly overcharging for medicine

Spain’s competition watchdog announced Monday it has fined Italian pharmaceutical firm Leadiant €10.2 million ($10.6 million) for selling a drug against a rare genetic disease at an excessive price.

A pharmacy is pictured. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

The National Commission for Markets and Competition, or CNMC, said the company had abused its dominant position as the only supplier in Spain of the only medication available in the country to treat Cerebrotendinous Xanthomatosis (CTX), a rare genetic disease.

There are fewer than 50 people in Spain who suffer from the disease and who must take the medication for life, according to the watchdog.

Leadiant had the exclusive rights to sell the active ingredient on which the drug is based and was charging Spain’s national health system 14 times the price of an “essentially identical” treatment it sold in the country until 2010, it added.

In addition to slapping Leadiant with the fine, the watchdog also ordered it to market the drug in Spain “at a non-excessive price” that will be negotiated with the health ministry.

Last year, Leadiant was fined 20 million euros in the Netherlands for charging an excessive price for the same medication.

The price jumped from €46 for 100 pills in 2008 to nearly €14,000 euros in 2019, according to the Dutch competition watchdog.

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Spain to allocate €38.5 million to reinforce mental health care

The Spanish government is set to dish out tens of millions to help bolster mental health support services, as well as another tranche of hundreds of millions to primary care centres.

Spain to allocate €38.5 million to reinforce mental health care

The Spanish government has approved two funding packages that are to be shared among each of the regions: €38.9 million for mental health services, and another €579.1 million for primary care infrastructure and new clinical equipment in health centres.

Both funding pledges were announced by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez recently in Valencia while on the campaign trail for upcoming local and regional elections at the end of the month. 

READ ALSO: GUIDE: Elections in Spain in 2023

In Spain, healthcare policy is delegated to the regional governments. The government pledge, therefore, is intended to help reinforce the regional healthcare programmes.

Mental health

The €38.9 million, which will be shared between the regions, has been put aside to help finance community mental health teams for both adult and youth populations for prevention and early detection work, including money to improve the 024 suicide helpline launched last year.

Spaniards are the world’s biggest consumers of anti-anxiety medication and the EU’s largest consumers of psychiatric or psychotropic medication overall, which includes antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilisers.

Andalusia, Spain’s most populous region, will receive €7 million, followed by Catalonia with €6.5 million, Madrid €5.6 million, and the Valencian Community will get €4.3 million.

The new funding follows the launch of a national Mental Health Plan last year, which budgeted €100 million for 2022, 2023 and 2024. The government had already transferred €24 million to the autonomous communities last year.

It is hoped the funds will improve access to services, reinforce existing mental health care and create new units in places without them. Spain’s Minister of Health, José Miñones, said the aim is to “get a comprehensive mental health care system” in the country.

READ ALSO: Mental health: Why Spain has become a nation of self-medicators

Mental health has become an increasing problem in Spain in recent years, particularly among children and young people. Experts point to the lockdown period of the Covid-19 pandemic during developmental years, combined with high rates of social media and technology use among children, as factors that have exacerbated the mental health problems among Spanish minors.

Suicidal thoughts are now the main reason for distress calls from children under 18 in Spain, which has increased 35-fold in a decade, followed by self-harm, anxiety, depression and eating disorders, with an increase of 291 percent.

Primary care

€580 million, again shared between the regions, will also be given to the autonomous communities to spend on infrastructure and equipment in primary health centres. Miñones described the funding as “the largest investment in primary care in history”.

The Minister was also keen to emphasise that the money will not come from European funds but the national budget, something that demonstrates the “commitment” of the Spanish government to healthcare.

This money will be spent as part of the Primary Care Infrastructure Improvement Plan (Minap), which aims to help renovate the facilities and equipment in all 13,000 health centres and clinics across the country.

The objective is, Miñones says, to “strengthen the level of care of primary care” and “bring diagnostic, therapeutic and rehabilitation services closer to the population,” especially in rural and less populated areas, in order to “guarantee the equality of all Spaniards”.