Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The Cancer Alliance has called on the government to reform its intellectual property regime for medicines, saying the current system inhibits competition and keeps drug prices at unaffordable levels.

Changes to SA’s intellectual property policy could make medicine prices fall by as much as 90%, it said.

"Thousands of cancer patients in SA are dying because they cannot afford medicines that are available in other countries at a fraction of the price. These patients are not getting the treatment they need because our government routinely grants patents that could be challenged and rejected," the Cancer Alliance said in a statement.

The Alliance is an association of 26 advocacy groups and nonprofit organisations, and has stepped up its campaign to improve patients’ access to life-saving medicines to coincide with World Cancer Day on February 4.

Many cancer drugs sold in SA are available at significantly lower prices in India, according to a report published in 2017 by the Cancer Alliance and the Fix the Patent Laws lobby. The report was based on an analysis of 24 cancer medicines that have no generics competition in SA. It found that 15 were available in India for less than half the private-sector price in SA.

The most extreme case was Celgene’s blood-cancer drug lenalidomide, branded Revlimid, which costs R882,000 for a year’s supply in SA in the private sector but just R32,000 in India.

"SA’s patent system is geared towards monopoly holders and is at odds with the government’s constitutional obligation to take reasonable legislative steps to protect and promote the right to health of people living in SA," the Cancer Alliance said.

Its new advocacy campaign will focus on eight key cancer medicines, chosen for their public health impact. They include drugs for breast cancer, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, small cell lung cancer, lymphoma, leukaemia, melanoma and drugs used for childhood cancers.