Roche convinced to sell affordable pills

Roche convinced to sell affordable pills

MUMBAI - Reuters
Roche convinced to sell affordable pills

Roche CEO Severin Schwan. REUTERS photo

Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding plans to offer cut-price versions of two blockbuster cancer drugs for the Indian market soon, a company spokesman said on March 23, days after the government moved to slash the price of another cancer treatment. 

India stripped German group Bayer of exclusive rights to Nexavar earlier this month and licensed a local company to produce a cheap, generic version, on the grounds poor that Indians could not otherwise afford the life-saving drug. 

Roche, the world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs, said it would offer “significantly” cheaper, locally branded versions of its two cancer drugs, Herceptin and MabThera, by early next year, under an alliance with India’s Emcure Pharmaceuticals. 

“The scope is to enable access for a large majority of patients who currently pay out of pocket as well as to partner with the government to enable increased access to our products for people in need,” spokesman Daniel Grotzky said by phone from company headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. 

Monthly doses of Herceptin, for breast cancer, and MabThera, for cancers of the blood and lymph system, cost around $3,000 to $4,500 per patient at wholesale prices, Grotzky said. 

“With this strategy, we expect to significantly increase the number of patients treated with our therapies and help patients currently under treatment to continue to use our products properly,” he added. 

He would not be drawn on how much the local versions would cost, nor whether Roche was responding to the Bayer case. 

The move highlights a growing debate about the cost of modern cancer medicines, which often work far better than traditional chemotherapy but come at a much high price.