The SA Competition Commission is probing price-fixing on cancer drugs. Photo Supplied
JSE-listed pharmaceutical company Aspen, which is being probed by the South African Competition Commission, will have to pay a $5.2 million (R73.7m) fine plus interest, imposed by the Italian Competition Authority (ICA) related to the company’s portfolio of oncology products distributed in Italy.

Aspen said yesterday it had been informed that the Italian court had dismissed its appeal against the ICA ruling.

Aspen said it was waiting for the release of the full reasons for this judgment and the Italian court’s assessment of the underlying facts, including that the price for most of the relevant Aspen drugs in Italy had not been increased for between 40 and 60 years, and that a generic version of one of the Aspen drugs in question had recently been approved in Italy, with a list price of more than double that of the Aspen drug on an equivalent dose basis.

“Aspen will engage its advisers and consider the matter further against receipt of those reasons, including Aspen’s automatic right to lodge a further appeal to the Council of State appeal court,” it said.

The South African Competition Commission on Tuesday launched an investigation into three major pharmaceutical companies for allegedly fixing the prices of cancer medication.

The investigation followed suspected collusion by Aspen, Pfizer and Roche over

the prices they were charging for cancer drugs.

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Commenting on the commission’s announcement, Aspen said pharmaceutical prices in South Africa were approved by the Department of Health in terms of the Single Exit Price (SEP) Regulatory Framework, which established a universal fixed price for each pharmaceutical product.

Aspen said it had not increased the pricing of its products outside of this regulatory framework and had clearly demonstrated its commitment to providing affordable quality medicines over many years, including the supply of the oncology products.

The company said that to date it had not had any engagement with the commission on these issues and welcomed the opportunity to meet and clarify certain key issues on the products listed by the commission in its announcement.

The issues included that these products were all post-patent and had been for some time now; there were no obvious barriers preventing generic entry for these products; and despite the lack of generic competition on these products, Aspen had never increased the price for the products in South Africa beyond the allowable SEP increases.

It added that invariably the lack of generic entry to a country was either attributable to the sub-economical pricing of the branded products and/or an unattractive market size.

“Aspen hopes to demonstrate, through its active engagement with the commission and other affected stakeholders, its ongoing commitment to supplying the South African market with quality affordable medicines for which it is renowned.

“While Aspen acknowledges the vital nature of the four oncology products listed in the commission’s announcement, these products have a collective turnover of about R3m in the South African private market,” the company said.