[Ip-health] Activists demand Roche drops cost of vital breast cancer medicine

Lotti Rutter lotti.rutter at mail.tac.org.za
Wed Mar 30 23:37:11 PDT 2016

*Activists demand Roche drops cost of vital breast cancer medicine*

Available at: http://www.fixthepatentlaws.org/?p=1064

*Follow #PharmaGreedKills for updates*
*Watch our previous video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vl5AJa7_pDY

*THURSDAY 31st MARCH 2015, JOHANNESBURG* – Today, members of the Fix the
Patent Laws campaign, including Advocates for Breast Cancer, the Cancer
Alliance, the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Doctors without
Borders, People Living with Cancer, SECTION27, the South African
Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance, the Treatment Action Campaign, and
Wings of Hope are picketing outside pharmaceutical company Roche to
highlight the excessive price of a life-saving breast cancer medicine.

Women with a specific form of breast cancer, HER2 positive, require a
medicine called trastuzumab (marketed in South Africa as Herceptin). Many
women in South Africa who need trastuzumab cannot access it due to the high
price charged by Roche. In the private sector, a 12-month course of
Herceptin costs approximately R485,800, or more if higher dosing is
required. Roche is able to charge such a high price as it holds multiple
patents on the drug, which may block cheaper biosimilars from being sold in
South Africa until 2033.

“I was diagnosed with HER2 breast cancer in 2013,” explains Tobeka Daki.
“Despite it being recommended by my doctor, my medical aid declined to
cover Herceptin claiming that it was too expensive. There’s no way I could
afford the half a million-rand price tag. Without access to Herceptin my
cancer has spread and last year I was diagnosed with bone cancer of the
spine. This medicine is a last hope for patients like me. Chemo alone isn’t

The Fix the Patent Laws campaign cannot accept that women in South Africa
are dying because they cannot access trastuzumab. We therefore demand the

   1. Roche should drop the price of trastuzumab so that all women who need
   it can have access to it. This must include prices in both the public
   sector and the private sector.

   1. Roche should abandon all the secondary patents it holds on
   trastuzumab in South Africa. Most of these secondary patents were not
   granted in other countries and should not be granted here. These secondary
   patents may provide Roche with market exclusivity in South Africa for at
   least ten years longer than in countries like the United Kingdom, the
   United States, South Korea and India.

“Should Roche fail to drop the price of trastuzumab to a level where all
women who need it can have access to it, we will ask the Department of
Health to grant a compulsory license that will allow for the use of more
affordable biosimilar versions of trastuzumab that are shown to be safe and
effective,” says Salome Meyer of Advocates for Breast Cancer.

Trastuzumab is just one medicine identified by the Fix the Patent Laws
campaign to be priced out of reach of those in need. “Appealing to Roche is
just a step in our advocacy efforts,” says CANSA CEO, Elize Joubert. “We
plan to highlight and fight for a number of cancer medicines that will help
people live longer. Ultimately fixing South Africa’s patent laws will
enable people living with cancer and many other diseases to have access to
the medicines they need at affordable prices.”

*For more detail, please see the briefing note below. This information was
first published on World Cancer Day on 4th February.*

*For more information and to arrange interviews contact:*

Lotti Rutter, Treatment Action Campaign // lotti.rutter at tac.org.za // 081
818 8493

*Briefing note on Trastuzumab*

*Why we need trastuzumab*

Breast cancer is the leading form of cancer affecting women in South
Africa. Between 20-30% of breast cancer patients are HER2 positive, which
is a particularly aggressive strain of cancer. Treatment consisting of 12
months of trastuzumab, in combination with other therapies, has been shown
to be highly effective for treating HER2 positive breast cancer – improving
overall survival rates by 37%.

Trastuzumab is recommended as an essential medicine by the World Health
Organisation for HER2 positive breast cancer, yet its high cost means the
majority of women in South Africa who need it will never access it.

In South Africa, only pharmaceutical company Roche’s branded versions of
trastuzumab are available, sold under the brand names Herceptin and
Herclon. In the private sector, a 12-month course of Herceptin costs
approximately R485,800, or more if higher dosing is required. Unless
significantly lower prices are made available to the Department of Health,
trastuzumab is unlikely to be purchased on tender and made available for
use in the public sector.

*Public sector availability*

At present, public sector access to trastuzumab is extremely limited and
requires a case review by a health facility’s Pharmaceutical & Therapeutics
Committee, which may — and often will — reject a patient’s motivation for
the drug, based on cost. The majority of woman seeking care in the public
sector that could benefit from this medicine are never even informed about

HER2 positive breast cancer patient Tobeka Daki, from the Eastern Cape,
learned that she needed trastuzumab after being diagnosed with
HER2-positive breast cancer at a private facility. Says Tobeka, “I’m now
using a public hospital and the doctor never ever mentioned Herceptin to
me.” She added, “I think if I get this treatment it will give me a chance
to see my two sons and my grandson growing”.

Find Tobeka’s full story here:

*Private sector availability*

Due to the high cost of Herceptin, many Medical Schemes in South Africa do
not pay for trastuzumab in full in the private sector For women that need
the medicine, this can create an impossible hurdle.

Veroney Judd-Stevens, a HER2-positive breast cancer patient, explains the
impact: “it’s unaffordable, totally unaffordable.  Where am I going to get
R600,000? I might as well sell my house, get better and then have nowhere
to live. That’s what it boils down to.”

During 2013 Roche earned over R100 million from the sale of Herceptin in
South Africa’s private sector, and approximately US$6.6 billion in global
sales in 2014.

*What do cancer activists have to say?*

“When [my doctor] told me that my treatment is half a million the first
thing that came to mind [is], as a cancer survivor and a supporter, I am
with young women and I could see them not being able to access this… There
are women who are 40, 30 and they’ve got small children and then they have
to lose their lives because they cannot afford Herceptin. It should not be
like that.” – Lillian Dube, actress and cancer patient activist.

“If you do not have the money to buy the drug then you don’t have access to
it… Irrespective of where you are in the country you have the right to
access to treatment and access to the drugs needed.  Hopefully we can make
that change. It will make a huge difference to all women in South Africa.”
– Louise Turner, breast cancer survivor and advocate.

*How do South Africa’s outdated patent laws contribute to high medicine

Roche holds multiple patents on trastuzumab in South Africa, which could
guarantee it a monopoly on the medicine’s sales until 2033. Roche’s patents
on trastuzumab will expire at least 10 years earlier in other countries,
such as the UK, US, India, and South Korea. South Africa’s Patents Office
currently does not examine patent applications, and has therefore granted a
number of patents on trastuzumab that have been rejected in other
countries. As competitors’ biosimilar products enter the market in
countries where trastuzumab patents have expired or are no longer in force,
prices should fall as a result of increased competition. South Africa could
miss out on such price reductions for trastuzumab so long as patents block
the use of more affordable biosimilars.

*Why we need patent law reform*

For nearly seven years, South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry has
taken piecemeal steps toward reforming the country’s patent laws. More
rapid action is required to establish a proper patent examination system
that prevents the granting of low-quality patents to pharmaceutical
companies, and puts in place legal safeguards that limit the abuse of
market dominance by patent-holding companies.

Fixing South Africa’s patent laws will enable women living with HER2
positive breast cancer and other diseases to have access to the medicines
they need at affordable prices.

*Lotti Rutter*
Senior Researcher
Policy, Communications and Research

Treatment Action Campaign
Tel: 021 487 4515
Cell: 081 818 8493
Skype: lotti.rutter
Twitter: @TAC @FixPatentLaw @lottirutter

*www.tac.org.za* <http://www.tac.org.za/>

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