Pfizer’s British drug distribution deal eyed by UK government

Pfizer’s drug distribution pact in Britain is under investigation by the UK consumer affairs watchdog group, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Until recently, drugs in the UK were distributed by competing wholesalers. However, last month, Pfizer changed that model when it signed a deal to have its drugs distributed exclusively by UniChem, the wholesaling division of UK pharmacy chain Alliance Boots. Other companies, including AstraZeneca, are said to be considering similar moves. A spokeswoman for the OFT told the Web site that over 500 complaints have come in from pharmacists, rival wholesalers and doctors in small communities who are concerned about drug availability and administrative burdens. The OFT said a study, due to conclude at the end of 2007, will examine the impact of changes on competition, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and patients. The NHS spends approximately $19.7 billion a year on the purchase of Rx drugs and UK pharmacies, including Boots, and the Lloyd’s chain of Celesio, provide more than 800 million prescriptions a year. UK consumers are charged a set price by the government for the prescriptions, except in Wales, where prescriptions are free. “Recent changes in the distribution arrangements for some medicines have caused great concern to many in the market. It is important for us to understand the likely impact of these changes on patients and costs to the NHS,” the OFT said.