Pharmaceuticals conglomerate Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) has been accused of breaching competition law by operating a discount scheme.
The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provisionally found that MSD abused its dominant position as a manufacturer of infliximab, which it produces under the name of Remicade, by offering a discount scheme that would restrict competition with other producers.
Infliximab is used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. Other versions of the drug include Inflectra and Remsima.
Although discounts may often be used to stimulate competition, and bring obvious benefits to consumers, the CMA states that in some cases the tactic could induce customer loyalty when employed by a dominant player. This in turn may make it more difficult for another company to compete for sales.
Worldwide, Remicade is undoubtedly the heavyweight. According to Evaluate, an industry analyst, sales of the drug stood at more than $8bn last year. Sales of Inflectra, manufactured by Hospira, stood at around $190m while Remsima, manufactured by Napp Pharamceuticals, gathered around $46m.
In the UK, figures from the NHS Business Services Authority show that Remicade costs the NHS £419.62 per vial, while the two biosimilar forms of infliximab cost £377.66 apiece per vial.
MSD will have the chance to respond to the CMA's statement of objections before the authority determines whether a breach has actually occurred.
Earlier this year, the CMA also accused pharmaceuticals companies Concordia and Actavis of signing illegal agreements prolonging high prices of a potentially life-saving hydrocortisone tablet.
The two companies are due to give their representations in response to the CMA's objections this month.