New Delhi, 18 January 2014
The Campaign for Affordable Trastuzumab welcomes the announcement by Biocon of the release of CANMAb, a biosimilar of trastuzumab. CANMAb is expected to be available in the market from 1 February 2014 and will be sold at a price of Rs.19,500/- per vial of 150 mg – around 25% less than the current price of Rs.75,000/- per 440 mg for Herclon.
The appearance of the biosimilar so soon after the removal of patent barriers vindicates our stand in challenging and opposing the secondary patents and divisional patents on trastuzumab sought by Roche in India. We urge patient organisations and civil society groups in other countries to remain vigilant and resist similar unethical attempts by pharma majors to reap unethical profits at the cost of millions of lives.
Announcing the launch of the biosimilar, Ms Kiran Majumdar-Shaw, CEO Biocon, reiterated her commitment to affordable treatment for Indian women with HER2+ breast cancer.
However, a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that the introduction of the biosimilar will have little or no impact in terms of expanded access. Many dealers offer discounts to long-time customers, such that the “street price” of trastuzumab (Herclon) ranges from Rs.55,000/- to Rs.57,000/- for a vial of 440 mg. CANMAb, at Rs.19,500/- for 150 mg, does not offer a price advantage for this group of patients.
The introduction of CANMAb will also not make a difference to women whose family income is less than Rs.30,000/- per month. For these women – who constitute 75% of the population1 and include not only the very poor but also the aspiring middle class – CANMAb is as much out of reach as Herceptin.
Realistically, only families with an income of Rs 75,000/- or more can afford even the minimum monthly dose of CANMAb. Such families constitute less than 10% of the population. Biocon’s expectation that the introduction of CANMAb will “expand the patient pool” is therefore unlikely to become reality.
We urge Biocon to demonstrate their commitment to affordable treatment by bringing the price of CANMAb to below Rs.5000/- per vial. This will not only give Indian women with HER2+ breast cancer a chance for a healthy and productive life, but will expand the patient pool far beyond the borders of the country and bring relief to the millions of women in developing countries who are battling this disease.
However, we should not forget that so-called “voluntary price reductions” by pharma companies, couched though they may be in the language of social responsibility, have more to do with securing market dominance than with any concern for patients or their rights. We therefore reiterate our call to the Government of India to take decisive steps to regulate the prices of biologicals (whether originators or biosimilars) like trastuzumab and pegylated interferon that are currently priced out of reach of the majority of those whose lives these drugs can save.
(signed) KALYANI MENON-SEN, Campaign Coordinator
For more information, please contact:
Kalyani Menon-Sen +91-9910306382
Leena Menghaney +91-9811365412