Roche pulls cancer drug from Greece in fight over government cost cuts

Island Kastri and ruins on Kos, Greece
Roche has pulled a drug from the Greek market as it and other drugmakers find themselves crosswise with the government over charges imposed on drugmakers in steps to appease lenders.

Swiss drugmaker Roche has pulled a cancer drug from the Greek market as it does battle again with authorities in the financially exhausted country over steps they have taken against drug prices in an effort to appease lenders.

Roche confirmed this week that it has pulled cancer drug cobimetinib from Greece. The drug, marketed in the U.S. as Cotellic, is a MEK inhibitor approved in 2015 to be used in tandem with Zelboraf in patients with BRAF V600-mutation-positive advanced melanoma.

The drugmaker took the step in a fight over a 25% rebate Greece recently imposed on branded drugs as part of its bailout plan with lenders.  In an emailed statement, the company said: "With the imposition of the mandatory 25% discount on new innovative products, which is added to a series of mandatory discounts, making Cotellic available in Greece at the reimbursed price has become unsustainable.

"We want to ensure that Greek patients continue to have access to innovative medicines and treatments now and in the future. At the same time, we need to protect our company from the extremely unfavorable environment created by the rebate and discount based pricing policy for pharmaceutical companies in Greece."

The market withdrawal was immediately denounced by authorities there.  

“The provocative tactics used by Roche must be addressed with determination by all the political and social forces of the country and by all the European institutions,” Greek health minister Andreas Ksanthos declared in a statement reported by EURACTIV.

Ksanthos and other authorities pledged to take steps against what he called “blackmail” by Roche, even as medical experts worried that other drugmakers might follow Roche’s lead and pull important drugs.

Other unnamed companies have also told authorities they might be forced to pull drugs or not market new drugs in the country after the government imposed the rebate retroactive to the first of the year and also added a 25% market entry fee on new drugs, EURACTIV reported earlier.

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This is a reprise of sorts for the industry. Roche was among 50 drugmakers that reportedly pulled drugs from Greece in 2013 after the country quit making payments as it plummeted into insolvency in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Roche, with about €200 million in unpaid drug bills at the time, mostly cut off state-run hospitals but continued to sell to pharmacies. Sanofi and Pfizer also pulled or withheld some drugs, while British drugmakers GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca said at the time that they were continuing to provide what was needed to the country.