Roche Faces Prosecution for ‘Excessive Pricing’ of Breast Cancer Drug

South Africa’s Competition Commission is pursuing prosecution against Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche for “alleged excessive pricing” of its breast cancer treatment drug, Trastuzumab (marketed as Herceptin).

It estimates that some 10,000 women were unable to get the treatment they needed between 2011 and 2019 because of Trastuzumab’s cost.

It has asked the country’s Competition Tribunal to impose a “maximum penalty” against Roche, for its alleged harmful and life-denying pricing conduct,” in violation of the country’s Competition Act, says Competition Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele.

The commission described Roche’s pricing as “a violation of basic human rights” as it denies access to life-saving medicine for women living with breast cancer.

“The Commission has prioritized this case because the impact of excessive pricing of Trastuzumab falls heavily on women, particularly poor women, who cannot access essential treatment because they cannot afford to pay for it,” said Commission spokesperson Siyabulela Makunga.

Trastuzumab is a first-line treatment life-saving drug that stops the development of an aggressive type of breast cancer called Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 Positive (HER2+) breast cancer. Trastuzumab stops the development of tumours and prevents cancer from spreading. 

The Cancer Association of South Africa puts the annual cost of treatment at around $32,000 – way out of the reach of most South Africans.

While Roche refused to share its cost data with the commission, the commission used biosimilar manufacturing cost estimates and prices to determine that the company’s pricing was excessive.

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