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14 June 2017Africa

South Africa investigates Roche, Pfizer and Aspen over drug pricing

The Competition Commission of South Africa has launched an investigation into suspected excessive pricing of cancer medicines by pharmaceutical companies Roche, Pfizer and Aspen Pharmacare.

Roche, and its US-based biotechnology company Genentech, are being probed over pricing of its breast cancer medicine trastuzumab, marketed under Herceptin and Herclon in South Africa.

According to the announcement from the Commission, released yesterday, June 13, trastuzumab is recommended as an essential medicine by the World Health Organization but, as a result of “exorbitant prices”, most breast cancer patients in the private and public sectors are unable to get treatment.

Pfizer is being investigated for suspected excessive pricing of a lung cancer medication in South Africa. The company is the only provider of a treatment known as xalkori crizotinib in the region.

The Commission is also probing Aspen over its pricing of Leukeran (chlorambucil), a chemotherapy medication; Alkeran (melphalan), which is used to treat multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer); and Myleran (busulfan), used in paediatrics and for adults as a conditioning agent before a bone marrow transplant.

Aspen, a South Africa-based company, appears to be the only supplier of a generic version of busulfan in tablet form, said the Commission.

It added that Aspen’s Leukeran brand is listed as a generic and that there does not seem to be a listing for an originator product in the country.

Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele said: “The Commission has identified the healthcare sector, and in particular pharmaceuticals, as a priority sector for its enforcement efforts due to the likely negative impact that anti-competitive conduct in that sector would have on consumers in general, and specifically the poor and vulnerable.”

The Fix the Patent Laws Coalition, which was founded in November 2011 by the Treatment Action Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières and SECTION27, welcomed the investigation.

“This is a major victory in our struggle to ensure that all people in South Africa can access the medicines they need to stay healthy and alive,” said the coalition in an announcement.

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