Pfizer denies over-charging for cancer drugs in SA

Pfizer denied it supplied its lung cancer product at the alleged price of R152,000 and said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

Medication. Picture: Freeimages.

JOHANNESBURG – US drugmaker Pfizer has denied allegations it overcharged for cancer medicines in South Africa following an investigation launched on Tuesday into three drug companies by the country’s competition watchdog.

The Competition Commission said it would investigate Aspen Pharmacare, Africa’s biggest generic drugmaker, Pfizer and Swiss-based Roche Holding on suspicion of charging too much for cancer medicines.

Pfizer denied it supplied its lung cancer product at the alleged price of R152,000 and said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

“We await the opportunity to be contacted by the Commission to clarify the pricing for this product,” it said in a statement.

The Commission said it had information that suggested Pfizer’s lung cancer treatment cost approximately R152,000 for 250 mg when bought through an agent.

Aspen, a local company based in Durban, has also denied any wrongdoing, saying it had not increased its prices for medicines used to treat leukaemia beyond the margin approved by the South African health department.

Roche said in an email it had not been formally notified by the Commission but would cooperate fully with the authorities.

CANCER PATIENTS WELCOME NEWS

As the Competition Commission investigates the pricing of certain cancer medications in South Africa, cancer patients and relatives have told Eyewitness News of their frustration, knowing that the drugs can save lives but are simply unaffordable.

On Tuesday the commission announced its probing pharmaceutical companies Aspen, Pfizer and Roche for various suspected transgressions.

There are also calls from cancer organisations for the commission to investigate alleged price-fixing in the sector.

Matlabo Rankhododo’s 37-year-old sister was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

She says her family simply can’t afford the medication that could save her life.

“I just wish that this commissioning can happen soon, while she is still here and get the opportunity to get this medication.”

A woman who suffers from ovarian cancer says she’s struggling to pay the more than R10 000 her treatment costs every month.

“I am fortunate that I am on medical aid, but I think that for this one injection is absolutely astronomical.”

The Commission has been urged to conclude its investigation as soon as possible as many people are in desperate need.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)