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South Africa seeks price cut for Roche's Herceptin cancer drug

Roche tablets are seen positioned in front of a displayed Roche logo in this photo illustration shot January 22, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo (Reuters)

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa is in talks with Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche to reduce the price of its breast cancer drug Herceptin, which currently costs 500,000 rand ($33,000) a year to treat one person and is unaffordable to most women, the health minister said on Tuesday. Africa's most industrialised country has a history of pushing to cut the prices of vital medicines, including winning concessions from big pharmaceutical firms to reduce the cost of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) used to control the HIV virus. Recently the government started free vaccinations of young girls against the sexually acquired human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes about 70 percent of cervical cancers. It had previously negotiated a lower fee with manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline. "I met the CEO in April and told him women won’t be able to afford this. Let’s talk, maybe something can come out of this," minister Aaron Motsoaledi told reporters on Tuesday. Roche said it shared the concerns about access to innovative medicines and improving healthcare in South Africa. "We are at an advanced stage of finalising discussions with the South African department of health to improve equitable access to Herceptin in the public sector," said spokeswoman, Ulrike Engels-Lange in a statement. Earlier Motsoaledi told the South African parliament that prices for medicines to treat non-communicable diseases such as cancer and drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) were on the rise. "Just as the price of ARVs were unaffordable then, cancer drugs are devilishly unaffordable today. If no drastic action is taken today, we are going to be counting body bags like we are at war," Motsoaledi said. Illustrating the high costs, Motsoaledi said it cost 960,000 rand to treat metastatic melanoma and 832,000 rand for a year's course of extremely drug resistant TB medication. ($1 = 15.2695 rand) (Reporting by Wendell Roelf and John Miller in Zurich; Editing by James Macharia, Greg Mahlich)