The three Aspen Pharmacare cancer medicines being probed by the Competition Commission have a collective annual turnover of just R3m, and have never seen price increases outside the regulatory framework overseen by the health department, the company said on Wednesday.

The commission announced on Tuesday that it was investigating the price of cancer drugs made by Aspen Pharmacare, Roche Holdings, and Pfizer.

The commission said it was investigating Aspen for suspected abuse of market dominance, as there were no rival products for its cancer drugs Leukeran, Alkeran and Myleran.

JSE-listed generic drugmaker Aspen Pharmacare said earlier on Wednesday that the drugs were all off-patent, and had been for some time.

"There are no obvious barriers precluding generic entry for these products. Invariably in situations like these, the lack of generic entry is either attributable to the sub-economical pricing of the branded products or an unattractive market size," it said in a statement.

"Despite the lack of generic competition on these products, Aspen reiterates and emphasises that it has never increased the prices for these products in SA beyond the allowable single exit price (SEP) increases gazetted by the Department of Health from time to time," it said. The SEP regulations stipulate that pharmaceutical manufacturers must sell their products at the same price to all their customers in the private sector, regardless of the volumes purchased. They also control the permitted markups at every stage of the supply chain from factory gate to pharmacy checkout point. Typically manufacturers get one SEP increase a year, which is approved by the health minister.

Roche is being investigated over the price of its breast cancer drugs Herceptin and Herclone, while Pfizer is under scrutiny over the price of its lung cancer drug Xalkori.

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