THE PRIME SUS­PECTS

Roche, Aspen Phar­ma­care and Pfizer are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for their re­spec­tive ex­cesses dis­played in pric­ing their cancer drugs

CityPress - - Business -

1Roche: Keep­ing out gener­ics

The most se­vere and spe­cific case be­ing made by the Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion is against Swiss multi­na­tional Roche around Tras­tuzumab, a breast cancer drug sold un­der the names Her­ceptin and Her­clon.

It echoes the allegations made by the Tobeka Daki Cam­paign for Ac­cess to Tras­tuzumab, launched by Sec­tion 27 and other groups in Fe­bru­ary. The cam­paign is named in honour of ac­tivist Tobeka Daki, who died of breast cancer last year.

This in­ves­ti­ga­tion had “mul­ti­ple trig­ger points”, said Com­pe­ti­tion Com­mis­sion head Tem­binkosi Bon­akele.

The al­le­ga­tion is that Roche and Ge­nen­tech, the ac­tual pa­tent owner for which Roche mar­kets the drug, are abus­ing pa­tent laws to stop generic ver­sions from be­com­ing avail­able, and then charg­ing ex­ces­sive prices.

Roche would not com­ment, but in Fe­bru­ary, the com­pany re­sponded to lo­cal cam­paign­ers by say­ing it would “not nec­es­sar­ily” stop so-called biosim­i­lar (generic) ver­sions of the drug be­ing pro­duced.

At the same time, Roche has been slated for its ag­gres­sive lit­i­ga­tion against generic ver­sions of its drug else­where in the world.

2Aspen Phar­ma­care: Goug­ing

The allegations against Aspen largely re­peat those in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion an­nounced three weeks ago by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which ac­cuses Aspen of “price goug­ing” by hik­ing the prices of niche cancer medicines by sev­eral hun­dred per­cent af­ter ac­quir­ing them from Glax­oSmithK­line.

These are off-pa­tent drugs that have very small mar­kets, which has meant that they have gar­nered lit­tle at­ten­tion from generic com­pe­ti­tion.

Bon­akele said that while the Euro­pean case in­flu­enced the com­mis­sion, it had been look­ing into the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies for a while.

“We have been do­ing our own stuff for over a year, even be­fore the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion raised these is­sues,” he said.

Aspen re­sponded by say­ing it had never in­creased prices be­yond what the SEP sys­tem per­mit­ted.

3Pfizer: Mis­taken iden­tity?

The pri­mary al­le­ga­tion against Pfizer may be based on a case of mis­taken iden­tity.

The com­mis­sion said an “agent” for Pfizer charged R152 000 for a 250mg dose of un­reg­is­tered cancer med­i­ca­tion Xalkori Cri­zo­tinib.

“When the price was queried, this agent halved the price,” said Bon­akele.

This raised a red flag, but the agent in question said it had noth­ing to do with Pfizer.

Ben­jamin Miny, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Eq­uity Pharma Hold­ings, told City Press that his com­pany pro­cured un­reg­is­tered medicines for pa­tients in South Africa us­ing spe­cial im­port per­mits un­der sec­tion 21 of the Medicines and Re­lated Sub­stances Con­trol Act.

Eq­uity Pharma had im­ported very small amounts, he said.

Miny said the price of the drug had been dra­mat­i­cally re­duced in South Africa be­cause Pfizer had started to sup­ply it in the coun­try it­self.

“Since then, we have re­ferred ev­ery­one to them.”

Miny de­fended his com­pany’s pric­ing, say­ing the drugs were im­ported from the EU when the rand was far weaker.

Bon­akele said: “There are other grounds for that in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The halv­ing of the price is only one of them.”

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