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Aspen loses cancer drug appeal and must pay €5.2m fine

Jun 14 2017 16:33
Fin24 and Bloomberg

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Last Updated: 01/01/0001 at 12:00. Prices are delayed by 15 minutes. Source: McGregor BFA

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Cape Town – Aspen [JSE:APN] has lost its appeal against an Italian Competition Authority ruling in an Italian court, meaning it must now pay a €5.2m (R74m) fine, the South African pharmaceutical company announced on Wednesday.

Aspen said it 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.

The ruling had not dented Aspen's share price on Wednesday. It was trading 0.64% stronger at R276 a share.

Aspen’s share price has decreased by 21.78% over the past year. Its market cap is currently standing at R125.4bn, while it price/earnings ratio was at 32.86.

The fine was with regards to Aspen's portfolio of oncology products distributed in Italy, an issue which has now reached South African shores.

Earlier on Wednesday, Aspen defended its pricing of cancer medication in South Africa, following the announcement on Tuesday that the Competition Commission had started an investigation into drug companies that also include Roche and Pfizer.

All its products are “post-patent and have been for some time now”, Aspen said in a statement on Wednesday.

“There are no obvious barriers precluding generic entry for these products,” it added. “Invariably in situations like these, the lack of generic entry is either attributable to the sub-economical pricing of the branded products and/or an unattractive market size.

“Despite the lack of generic competition on these products, Aspen reiterates and emphasises that it has never increased the prices for these products in South Africa beyond the allowable single exit price increases as gazetted by the South African Department of Health from time to time.”

SA joins global crackdown on rising cancer drugs

South Africa this week joined the global crackdown on the rising cost of life-saving cancer treatments by starting an investigation into drug companies including Roche, Pfizer and Aspen for allegedly charging excessive prices.

Roche and Pfizer are suspected of charging high prices for breast and lung-cancer drugs respectively while Aspen may have abused its dominance in the market for bone and blood cancer drugs, the Competition Commission said on Tuesday.

“The matter is of grave national importance,” the commission said in a statement.

South Africa’s investigation follows probes by the European Union last month into pharmaceutical companies including Aspen for the pricing of cancer drugs. The EU move was prompted by action in the UK and Italy. Separately, US officials have been looking at pricing of generic medicines for more than two years, triggering civil lawsuits from customers who say they were overcharged.

A 12-month course of Roche’s trastuzumab breast cancer medicine, branded Herceptin and Herclon, costs about R500 000 if administered privately, while is offered at “substantially lower prices” in the public sector, the commission said.

“As a result of exorbitant prices, most breast cancer patients in both the private and public sectors are unable to get treatment,” it said. The investigation related to Aspen is into its generic products, and similar to the EU’s probe.

Aspen hasn’t increased prices outside of a framework established by South Africa’s Department of Health and is “committed to full and constructive engagement” with the commission’s investigation, the Durban-based company said in a statement.

Roche will provide all required information once it is notified of the probe, spokesperson Aadila Fakier said by email. Pfizer didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

aspen  |  competition commission  |  cancer drugs


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