Pharmaceutical giant Roche under fire for cost of cancer meds

08 February 2017 - 08:54 By Neo Goba

Breast cancer and HIV activists came out in their hundreds yesterday to demand that pharmaceutical giant Roche drop the price of its breast cancer drug, Herceptin.

"We are here because we want access to [the medication]," said Lotti Rutter, campaign manager for the Treatment Action Campaign.

"It is a life-saving medicine for women with breast cancer but in South Africa and many other parts of the world it's not accessible because it's too expensive."

Herceptin is prescribed to women with a specific form of breast cancer, HER2-positive. In the private sector, a 12-month course of Herceptin costs R485 800 - more if higher dosages are required.

Veteran actress Lillian Dube, who revealed in 2015 that she had to fight a renewed battle with cancer after undergoing a single mastectomy, was among those in the picket at Roche's Sandton premises.

"This is a worthy course and I'm here to fight for patients' rights. As a cancer survivor, I was on Herceptin and my medical aid got depleted when I wasn't even halfway through my 17 treatments, which meant that to finish my treatment every three weeks I had to pay R24,320 for each visit," said Dube.

Although she returned to work fairly quickly, she has since confirmed that her fight against the disease is not yet over.

"My real concern is that you can't find this medication in public hospitals and, as a result, young women die because the cost prevents them from getting Herceptin.

"Roche has made its money, why do they keep charging us such exorbitant prices?" asked Dube.

Aadila Fakier, spokesman for Roche SA, said: "We share your concerns and we continue to work with all stakeholders, including the government, to ensure that Trastuzumab [sold under the brand name Hevceptin] is available for all women who need the medicine."

She said an offer had been made to the government to enable patients who are HER2-positive to be treated.

"As yet we have not reached a solution."