Big Pharma in trouble for high prices

An experimental Covid-19 antiviral drug could be a game changer in treatment:(File Photo)

Meanwhile, yesterday Aspen lost its appeal against a R74-million fine imposed by Italy’s competition commission for massive mark-ups – in some case up to 1500% – on certain cancer medication.

Local activists have campaigned against the price of Roche’s breast cancer drug,  (traded under the names Herceptin and Herclon) for a number of years.


This week, the Competition Commission revealed that private sector patients had to pay over R500,000 for a year’s worth of treatment while the price in the public sector is R211,940.

“The Commission has reasonable grounds to suspect that Roche and Genentech may be charging excessive prices for breast cancer medicines, including Herceptin and Herclon, to the detriment of consumers and in contravention of the Competition Act,” the commission announced.

Essential medicince

Roche holds a composition patent for Herceptin until 2020.

The investigation has been welcomed by Fix the Patent Laws (FTPL), a coalition of 34 organisations including the Cancer Association of South Africa, Treatment Action Campaign, Section27 and Medecins sans Frontieres.

“This is seen as a major victory in the struggle to ensure all people in South Africa can access the most essential medicines they need,” said the coalition.

Trastuzumab, listed as an essential medicine by the World Health Organisation, is used to treat breast cancer and some types of stomach cancer.

The FTPL coalition accuses Roche of “blocking potentially more affordable biosimilar versions of trastuzumab from coming to market”, with its South African patent only due to expire in 2033.

The commission is also going to investigate Pfizer for “suspected excessive pricing of lung cancer medication called xalkori crizotinib.

“The information available to the Commission is that xalkori crizotinib cost approximately R152 000 for 250 mg when bought through an agent, Equity. Subsequent information suggests that there was a price reduction to R72 000 per month for 250 mg. This conduct is suggestive of abusive behaviour in respect of the supply of xalkori crizotinib in South Africa,” said the commission.

Excessive prices

It is also investigating Aspen for charging “excessive prices in the provision of lifesaving cancer medicines in South Africa”.

The medicines are:

  •  Leukeran, a chemotherapy medication used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma;
  • Alkeran for bone marrow cancer and epithelial ovarian cancer;
  • Myleran, a conditioning agent prior to bone marrow transplantation.

After buying the medicines from GlaxoSmithKline in 2009, Aspen increased their prices by between 300% and 1 500%.

“Given that Aspen supplies similar products in South Africa, the Commission has reasonable grounds to suspect that Aspen may be engaging in similar conduct locally,” said the commission.

WATCH: A single mother’s struggle with cancer


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