[Ip-health] GroundUp - TAC calls for Roche to drop price of cancer drug

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Feb 7 23:05:42 PST 2017



TAC calls for Roche to drop price of cancer drug

Activists say that with generic competition trastuzumab could be R3,500 per
course instead of the current price of over R200,000

By Ihsaan Haffejee
7 February 2017

Tulani Daki cried as he described to hundreds of protesters outside the
Johannesburg office of pharmaceutical company Roche how his mother Topeka
Daki died of cancer.

Tobeka was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in 2013. She died in
her home in the Eastern Cape on 14 November 2016. A drug called trastuzumab
manufactured by Roche might have helped her survive, but it was

“How many women must die because of the greed of Roche?” asked Daki. “I’m
very angry. My mother was not rich and just because of that she was denied
access to the required treatment.”

The protesters included women living with breast cancer. Many held up
placards calling for justice for Tobeka.

Trastuzumab is recommended by the World Health Organisation as an essential
medicine for the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer. According to a
statement by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which organised the
protest, clinical trials have demonstrated that providing trastuzumab in
addition to chemotherapy, improved the survival of women with early or
locally advanced breast cancer by 37%.

Lotti Rutter, campaign manager for the TAC, said trastuzumab is too
expensive for the majority of people in South Africa. “In the private
sector it can cost over R500,000 and in the public sector over R200,000
[for a six month course] … So this means that the government, which runs
the public health service, does not want to procure the drug because it is
so expensive,” she said.

Rutter said that health economists have shown that the price of trastuzumab
could be reduced to R3,500.

Babalwa Malgas traveled from the Eastern Cape to attend the protest. She
wore a pink shirt which bore Tobeka’s face. She too is living with
HER2-positive breast cancer. “My life is at stake because of the patent
rights given to this pharmaceutical company. I couldn’t get access to the
medication because money is more important than my constitutional rights
and my life,” she said.

A memorandum handed over to Roche management demanded that the company drop
the price of trastuzumab so that all women living with HER2+ breast cancer
can access it. The protesters also demanded that Roche cease litigation
against companies producing similar versions of trastuzumab, and that the
company stop extending its patent period on the drug. The TAC argues that
with competition from generic companies the price will come down.

Aadila Fakier of Roche’s public policy and communications department signed
and accepted the memorandum. She said she noted the concerns of the
protesters and that Roche would continue to engage with the relevant
stakeholders including government on this issue.

“Roche has been in negotiations with the Department of Health over the past
year to improve equitable access to trastuzumab in the public sector. We
have offered the Department of Health a significantly reduced and
cost-effective treatment option. This option supports the testing of breast
cancer patients in the public sector, and if positive for the HER2 gene,
makes trastuzumab available for the treatment of these patients. A final
agreement has however not yet been concluded,” read a statement released to
the media by Roche.

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