Roche cutting price, rebranding Herceptin, MabThera in India

Roche is cutting the price of Herceptin (trastuzumab) and MabThera (rituximab) in India and giving the cancer therapies new names in an effort to gain market share and avoid competition from generic drugs, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. According to the Wall Street Journal, the move marks a shift for the Swiss drugmaker, which has long argued that consumers everywhere should pay the same price for its products.

Currently, the wholesale costs of Herceptin and MabThera, which is also marketed as Rituxan in the US and some other countries, are about $3,000 to $4,500 a month per patient, but Tuygan Goeker, head of Middle East and Asian markets at Roche, said the prices would be cut in India starting next year. However, he declined to say by how much the prices would be reduced.

Goeker noted that the company is hoping that the lower prices will win usage rates in India "at least several-fold higher" than current levels. The company also hopes to avoid being compelled under Indian law to allow generic drugmakers to produce less-expensive versions of the therapies.

The drugs will be packaged locally by India-based Emcure Pharmaceuticals, but the new names of the products have not yet been revealed and are still subject to approval. Goeker noted that Roche is hoping the new names will prevent wholesalers from buying the Indian product and reselling it at a profit in other markets, as well as help the company maintain its prices for Herceptin and MabThera outside of India.

In India, "there is the expectation that companies should do more to improve access to drugs. One instrument that has been used unilaterally by the Indian government was use of the compulsory license," Roche spokesman Daniel Grotzky said. "We'd like to provide solutions to that, rather than be in a situation where you see unilateral action," he noted. Earlier this month, the country exercised this right for the first time and forced Bayer to grant a compulsory license for Nexavar, which costs $5700 for a month's supply after Natco Pharma pledged to sell a version of the drug for $178 a month.

However, the Wall Street Journal warned that it is far from guaranteed that other countries won't demand the Indian-level prices once they become public and Goeker noted that Roche is treating the India arrangement as a pilot deal.

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