Roche, Novartis to halt marketing for unreimbursed cancer drugs in Australia

Swiss drugmakers Roche and Novartis Oncology have told Australia to go fly a kite if it expects a company to market a cancer drug in the country without Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) coverage. The two companies announced their boycott intentions ahead of a Monday hearing by a panel of Australia's Senate.

The boycotts appear to be somewhat different, but both target the failure of the PBS to cover certain cancer drugs under the national health insurance plan. But their complaint is the same as that echoed for months by Medicines Australia, which represents the drug industry and complains it takes too long for the PBS to approve coverage.

Roche ($RHHBY), Australia's largest supplier of oncology drugs, said it would eliminate its free access to its drugs until the PBS decides to fund them. Novartis said it spent U.S. $11.4 million last year to cover the treatment of 423 patients, but could no longer afford to do so and would require patients to cover 25% of the cost for an unlisted drug.

Novartis ($NVS) joined Roche in saying they could not continue to absorb the cost of waiting, sometimes as long as 5 years, between marketing approval and listing on the PBS. Novartis said it expects other drugmakers to follow their lead in taking alternative paths to make their presence on the Australia market more cost-effective.

For both, the boycott extends only to drugs that have been approved by the Therapeutics Goods Administration, but have not yet been listed on the PBS. Medicines Australia said it currently takes an average of 573 days between those two actions.

- here are the stories from The Australian (sub. req.) and Business Insider