A pharmacist counts pills in a pharmacy. File image: Reuters

The department of health has persuaded pharmaceutical company Roche to halve the price of one of its cancer drugs, Business Day reported on Wednesday.

The department's deputy director general for regulation Anban Pillay said the drug rituximab, dubbed MabThera by Roche, had previously been too expensive for the state to buy and distribute to patients.

With the price halved, provinces with the capacity to offer cancer treatment will buy the drug, within the constraints of their budgets.

The department’s two-year tender for the drug, shows that government is willing to pay R7950 for a 50ml vial of the injectable rituximab, and R1590 for a 10ml vial.

Rituximab belongs to a class of medicines called biologics, and is used for treating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukaemia, and severe rheumatoid arthritis.

Roche is a price-setter for MabThera, as the only market with a rival product is India.

Pillay said the department was also in discussion with Roche over a “more affordable” price for its breast cancer drug Herceptin. - Sapa