One of the world’s leading drug companies plotted to destroy supplies of life-saving cancer medicines to drive up prices in Europe, The Times has reported.

South African firm Aspen Pharmacare is understood to have proposed the destruction of medicines during a row with the Spanish health service in 2014, while it is also said to have threatened to stop supplying medicine to Italian authorities a year earlier.

An investigation by the Times claims a ‘cache of documents’ revealed Aspen ‘threatened to stop supplying drugs’ to Italy in 2013 if authorities did not agree to price rises, and a year later ‘threatened to destroy stocks’ should Spanish health bosses not do the same.

It is understood that Italian authorities subsequently agreed to the rises following a period of medicine shortages that were ‘allegedly orchestrated to increase pressure’.

Dennis Dencher, chief executive of Aspen Pharma Europe, told the Times price rises were at ‘appropriate levels’ to ‘promote long-term sustainable supply’ and added the previous prices were ‘unsustainable’.

The firm also denied any shortages of medicine were deliberate but did not address questions on the destruction of drugs from the paper.

The price drive began after the firm, whose European headquarters is based in Dublin, bought the rights to five cancer medicines from British firm GlaxoSmithKline.

According to The Times, the company wanted to drive the prices up to 4,000 per cent after purchasing the ‘portfolio’ of drugs from GSK for more than £270million in 2009.

The paper reported that in 2013 the cost of leukaemia drug busulfan rose from £5.20 to £65.22 in England and Wales, a 1,100 per cent jump, while blood cancer medicine chlorambucil went from £8.36 per pack to £40.51.

It is understood Aspen was able to impose the price rises by taking advantage of a loophole that allows increases if a brand name is dropped.