The Competition Commission of South Africa has initiated separate investigations against three global pharmaceutical companies over suspected excessive pricing of cancer medicines.

The three companies under probe are Swiss-based Roche, US firm Pfizer and South African holding company Aspen Pharmacare.

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Competition Commission commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele said: “The Commission has identified the healthcare sector, and in particular pharmaceuticals, as a priority sector for its enforcement efforts due to the likely negative impact that anti-competitive conduct in that sector would have on consumers in general and specifically the poor and vulnerable.”

The investigation against Roche has been initiated based on the Commission’s belief that the company, along with its US-based biotechnology firm Genentech, has been and continues to practice excessive pricing, price discrimination and / or exclusionary conduct in the provision of breast cancer medicine in South Africa.

Breast cancer patients in the country only have treatment access to Roche’s branded versions of Trastuzumab, which are available and sold in the market under the names Herceptin and Herclon.

Genentech offers exclusive marketing rights to Roche for Trastuzumab.

"Breast cancer treatment in South Africa is currently unaffordable and many medical aid schemes refuse to pay for the treatment based on its cost."

Breast cancer treatment in South Africa is currently unaffordable and many medical aid schemes refuse to pay for the treatment based on its cost.

Pfizer is suspected of charging an excessive price for lung cancer treatment in the country.

Lung cancer patients in South Africa have access to only one medication, xalkori crizotinib, provided by Pfizer. The treatment is unaffordable and medical aid schemes in the country refuse to pay for it.

According to available information, xalkori crizotinib costs approximately ZAR152,000 ($11,796.8) for 250mg when bought through an agent known as Equity.

However, there was a price reduction to R72,000 ($5,587.98) per month for 250mg of xalkori crizotinib, which suggests abusive behaviour in respect of the supply of the cancer treatment in South Africa.

The Commission also has information that gives rise to a suspicion against Aspen for excessive pricing in the provision of certain cancer medicines.

Aspen offers its chemotherapy medication Leukeran (active ingredient chlorambucil), multiple myeloma treatment Alkeran (active ingredient melphalan) and Myleran (active ingredient busulfan), which is used as a conditioning agent prior to bone marrow transplantation.