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The latest flare-up over the cost of medicines is taking place in Switzerland, where a nonprofit group has formally asked the government to issue a compulsory license for a Roche breast cancer treatment, apparently the first time such a move has occurred in the wealthy country.

In a letter to the Swiss health minister, Public Eye claims that “excessive pricing” for the Perjeta medication — which is part of a combination treatment that includes another Roche drug — is “undermining” the ability of the government to ensure “the entire Swiss population continues to benefit from affordable access to lifesaving treatments in a sustainable manner.”

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  • Does any other company make a bio-similar version of this antibody (Pertuzumab)? If not, issuing a compulsory license may not achieve much. Who would be the alternative supplier enabled by the compulsory license? If there are other companies that make (or can quickly start to make) the drug, that’s another issue.

    • Hi Ken
      Good question. I believe the NGO would want another company to do so, but the data protection raised by the Federal Council spokesman suggests your point could be an issue.
      Thanks for writing in,

    • It will be ultimately the task of the Swiss government to select an appropriate biosimilar producer that complies with the quality standards should a government-use licence be issued – but Public Eye has done some exploratory research in this regard. There is no pertuzumab biosmilar in the market today but many companies already have biosimilars in their pipeline, in Switzerland and abroad. Some of these have already developped trastuzumab biosimilars (Herceptin), which builds on the same technology (monoclonal antibodies) – 4 such versions have been approved in the EU between 2017 and 2018 from diverse companies. Technically, they could embark on the development of a pertuzumab biosimilar quite quickly. Swiss-based Sandoz claims to be one of the leaders in the biosimilar sector, but there are other such developpers in Switzerland and abroad. I suspect that many of them will only really express interest once the licence is granted (or at least a request has been submitted) – they may be reluctant to do so before in order not to jeopardise potential existing business relationships with Roche. The easiest solution would be of course for the Swiss government to select a Swiss-based producer (would fall under the same licence) – if abroad the issue of existing enforced patents in the respective countries would have to be considered by the Federal Council.

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