Competition commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele accused Roche and Genentech Inc. of engaging in “excessive pricing, price discrimination and exclusionary conduct in the provision of breast cancer medicine in South Africa” in a press conference today.
Roche sells trastuzumab as Herceptin and Herclon in South Africa. According to Bonakele, a 12-month course of Herceptin costs around ZAR 500,000 ($39,066) which he said limited access to the drug.
“As a result of exorbitant prices, most breast cancer patients in both the private and public sectors are unable to get treatment” he said, adding that “the Commission has reasonable grounds to suspect that Roche and Genentech may be charging excessive prices…to the detriment of consumers and in contravention of the Competition Act.”
According to Bonakele patents held by Roche and Genetech, which cover trastuzumab as well as combinations of the drug and chemotherapeutic agents, could block preclinical development of a biosimilar product until 2033.
He also said: “Information in possession of the Commission gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that the Respondent [Roche] may be engaging in exclusionary conduct in order to prolong its hold on breast cancer drugs.”
Bonakele suggested Roche may be using ‘ever-greening’ – making minor modifications to its patent in order to gain an extension – to delay the entry of biosimilar versions of the drug.
Roche told us it "has not received a formal notification by the Competition Commission in South Africa. In case we receive a formal notification, we will be cooperating with the authorities and will provide all required information while responding to the potential allegation."