Collusion probe into cancer meds

Johannesburg - The Competition Commission announced it will investigate excessive pricing of cancer medication.

Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele was speaking at a briefing at the Department of Trade and Industry headquarters in Pretoria on Tuesday.

"The matter is of grave national importance," said Bonakele. He explained that anti-competitive behaviour the healthcare sector, particularly pharmaceuticals could have a negative impact on consumers, specifically the poor and vulnerable. 

The investigation is to be initiated against oncology medicine provider Roche Holding AG, which includes its US-based biotechnology company Genentech Incorporated. 

The commission believes the company has engaged in excessive pricing, price discrimination and exclusionary conduct in the provision of breast cancer medicine in South Africa.

The commission will also investigate Pfizer, for suspected excessive pricing of lung cancer medication in South Africa. 

Aspen Pharmacare [JSE:APN] is also to be probed for excessive pricing. The commission believes Aspen has abused its dominance in the sector by charging excessive prices for lifesaving cancer medication in South Africa, said Bonakele. 

The commission plans to obtain evidence from patients.

“We have to treat this with the urgency and sensitivity it deserves, there are still many patients in need of these drugs,” said Bonakele.

"We have to look at patents and how they get abused. A perpetual monopoly aided by patents is unlawful," he said. 

READ: Aspen in Competition Commission price-fixing probe

This follows a previous report by Fin24 that Aspen is under preliminary investigation for alleged excessive pricing.

In a statement the pharmaceutical company indicated it would cooperate with the commission. Aspen explained that all prices are approved by the Department of Health in terms of the Single Exit Price regulatory framework. At the time Aspen affirmed that price increases were made within this framework.

Aspen is undergoing a legal process with European regulators over allegations that the company secretly planned to destroy life-saving cancer medication European countries to allow price hikes, Fin24 reported. 

Given the excessive pricing of products in Europe, the Commission is of the view that similar practices are followed for similar products available in South Africa. “The commission has reasonable grounds to suspect that Aspen may be engaging in similar conduct locally," said Bonakele.

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