Cancer survivors and activists call out corporate greed

Breast cancer patient Tobeka Daki
Tobeka Daki was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2013. She succumbed to the disease last November. Daki is convinced that if she had been given access to the cancer drug Herceptin, her cancer never would have spread.

Organisations – including the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Section27 and Cancer Alliance – will join a picket on Tuesday morning in honour of cancer activist Tobeka Daki. The gathering is planned to take place outside the premises of Roche, a pharmaceutical company in Johannesburg, which has multiple patents on an essential cancer treatment drug.

Daki, a single mother from Mdantsane, succumbed to cancer in November 2016. Before her death, the activist led calls for government to make provisions for affordable and accessible cancer medication.

Daki was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer in 2013 and struggled to access the drug trastuzumab – trade name Herceptin –  used to treat aggressive types of cancer.  Being on medical aid did not help her.

No access to trastuzumab

According to Fix the Patent Laws coalition, Daki was told by her oncologist that she needed trastuzumab in addition to chemotherapy, as this would increase her chances of beating cancer and leading a normal life. But she was not given the treatment and in 2015 the cancer came back, this time in her spine.

Roche, has more than one patent on trastuzumab, preventing the manufacturing of cheaper biosimilars that could save lives. Activists say more affordable options will not be allowed to come onto the market until 2033.

Currently the cost of a year’s treatment course on trastuzumab is over R200 000. Spokesperson for TAC Lotti Rutter says the medicine has been excluded from prescribed minimum benefits of private medical schemes because of the high costs.

TAC, a Fix the Patent Laws alliance partner, says other developing countries face similar problems in accessing affordable trastuzumab.

“In other parts of the world where the patents have expired, Roche is using different means to block access including litigating against biosimilar versions.”

High price of biosimilars

Roche says it has met with the Fix the Patent Laws on numerous occasions to share steps taken to achieve access to the drug. However the company says it does not believe that dropping patents will result in equitable access to trastuzumab and added that the discussion on patents is not relevant in the current context of increasing access to trastuzumab.

“We aim to improve access in a manner that delivers sustainable improvements to healthcare today while allowing us to continue to invest in new medical innovations,” stated a press release issued by the company.

On taking legal action against companies that introduced biosimilars, Roche says it has done this because it was unclear whether or not the medicines met the strict standards set for biosimilars, or if regulatory standards had been properly adhered to.

“Companies had tried to pass off our data or information as their own,” it charged.

The march is expected to take place at Illovo in Sandton from 10.30am until 1 pm.  More than 50 women living with cancer are expected to be part of the picket. – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story was published on 


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