Biocon's cancer drug not affordable: Activists

Indian biotechnology major Biocon’s new breast cancer medicine “Canmab” is scarcely a cause for cheer as it is as costly as the original molecule “Herceptin” made by a multinational pharmaceutical company, say activists campaigning for cheaper anti-cancer medicines.

A 440 mg vial of Canmab (medical name “trastuzumab”) costs about Rs 56,000, while a similar medicine of the same dose from drug major Roche would cost about Rs 75,000 in India.

Many Roche dealers already offer discounts to “steady customers”, the patients needing long-term treatment. As a result, the street price of Herceptin ranges from Rs 55,000 to Rs 57,000 for a vial of 440 mg. “Biocon’s price for the bio-similar is not significantly lower than what is available from Roche,” said Leena Menghaney from the Campaign for Affordable Trastuzumab.

Canmab is the biosimilar version of the original medicine, developed by Roche, to treat a common type of breast cancer in which patients carry HER2 gene.

Breast cancer remains the commonest cause of cancer among women. Approximately 1.5 lakh new Indian patients are diagnosed with breast cancer every year of which nearly 25 per cent carry HER2 gene, making them eligible for treatment with the new medicine.
Canmab is the world’s first biosimilar version of Herceptin, which is the only medicine to treat HER2 positive cases.

Market tactic

The Bangalore-based company, however, has launched a 150 mg dose of the medicine, priced at Rs 19,500 per vial. “Many a times, doctors prescribe the 440 mg dose because lower dosage is not available in the market. That’s where our product will have an edge,” said a spokesperson of Biocon.

“Also, on both dosages, we offer 25 per cent discount, which will make the drug even more affordable,” she told Deccan Herald.

Unlike the product currently available in the market, both 150 and 440 mg formulations of Canmab can be stored for a month to prevent wastage of drug which is quite common, said the spokesperson.

The activists, however, have a different take and want the medicine within a price band of Rs 5,000. “The introduction of the bio-similar will make little or no difference to women whose income is less than Rs 30,000 per month. ” said another activist Kalyani Menon Sen.

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