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This Cancer Survivor Says Roche Is Charging Half A Million For A Drug That Costs Less Than R3,000 To Manufacture

"It's murder" says one cancer survivor.

17/07/2017 07:04 SAST | Updated 24/07/2017 11:24 SAST

Claudett Moor is a 46-year-old woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and has been on treatment ever since. She suffered from three types of breast cancer: HER+, PR+ and ER+, and is currently in remission but will need a drug called Herceptin should her cancer return.

Herceptin, also known as Trastuzumab, is a drug recommended by the World Health Organisation as an essential medicine for the treatment of HER2+ breast cancer and is supplied by Roche at a cost of just over R500,000 for a year's treatment, despite allegations from several Cancer Association groups and health economists saying it costs less than R3,000 to make.

In an interview with HuffPost SA, Moor said it was almost impossible for an average South African to afford the treatment. "Even someone who earns R40,000 a month would struggle to afford that price," she said.

Moor, who took part in a protest in March last year calling for Roche to decrease the price of the drug, which isn't available in state hospitals because of its high cost, says their efforts remain unsuccessful. "We brought a signed petition and were outside their offices all day but their CEO didn't even bother to show up," she said.

Along with the petition was a memorandum handed over to Roche management demanding that the company drop the price of Herceptin 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 Herceptin, and that the company stop extending its patent period on the drug.

It seems their cries did not fall on deaf ears. On June 13, the Competition Commission announced that it was launching an investigation against Roche for their excessive pricing of cancer medication. In a media statement by the commission it explained that it was also investigating Roche for "exclusionary conduct" stating: "Information in possession of the commission gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that the respondent may be engaging in exclusionary conduct in order to prolong its hold on breast cancer drugs."

HuffPost SA contacted Roche for comment and although they declined an interview, spokesperson Fakier Aadilla said they were aware of this investigation and would participate fully.

"We are confident that the pricing of our life-saving pharmaceutical products is done strictly in accordance with the regulatory framework of the country," Aadilla wrote in an email to HuffPost SA.

Roche is currently the only drug company in South Africa that offers Herceptin and holds a composition patent for it, which expires in 2020. The commission believes that Roche may be attempting to extend this patent so as to remain the drug's only supplier. It is this very allegation that most concerns Moore. "There are other countries who offer this drug at a much cheaper price but Roche keeps extending their patent and won't allow anyone else to offer it, what they are doing is murder" Moore said.

Moor, who is currently using several types of medication offered by the Department of Health for just R40, says her biggest fear is that her cancer may return -- and that the high cost of the medication will lead to her untimely death. "I live in constant worry that it will come back and if it does, that I will die without the Herceptin drug."

Salome Mayer from the Cancer Alliance says they were in contact with Roche up until two months ago. According to Mayer, Roche is in negotiations with the Department of Health to bring the price down. "They've offered to bring the price down to R2,012 and we do not know if the health department will accept this price, because it's still pretty high," she said.

Mayer says all they can do now is wait for the negotiations to be concluded and for the Competition Commission to announce their findings.