Cancer Alliance calls for access to affordable lenalidomide for public and private sector patients in South Africa



Many cancer patients in South Africa do not have access to affordable cancer medicines – many of which are available in other countries at a fraction of the price paid here. These patients are not getting the treatment that they need because our government routinely grants patents that could have been challenged and rejected. Patented medicines are expensive and potentially block access for the 84% of patients that are treated in the public sector.

South Africa’s patent system is geared towards monopoly holders and is at odds with the government’s constitutional obligation to take reasonable legislative steps to protect and promote the right to health of people living in South Africa. A revision in South Africa’s intellectual property policy could see the prices of medicines drop by as much as 90%.

In 2018 Cancer Alliance announced that it was turning its attention to eight medicines which will be the focus of a concerted two year campaign to change the path of cancer treatment in our country.

Now, one year later, we call for access to affordable access to lenalidomide and/or thalidomide. This medicine is used for the treatment of Multiple Myeloma.

Celgene acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to thalidomide in 1996. Lenalidomide is a derivative of thalidomide. Secondary patents could block access until 2026 – this is 71 years since the initial patent on thalidomide was granted in the US and 30 years after the initial lenalidomide patent was granted. These products are not available to the public sector patients mainly due to cost. A year’s supply of lenalidomide is priced at R882,000 in South Africa and less than R32,000 in India. Until 2016, patients in the private and public sector were able to obtain quality, effective and safe generics from India with a Section 21 authorisation. This, however was cancelled once the originator product was registered by SAHPRA through Key Oncologics. This access was successfully challenged by a group of patients who had previous access, however new patients who require lenalidomide access via Section 21 are not granted this right by SAHPRA. Compulsory licenses were granted in the US as well as Russia.

In 2018 the WHO published a ground breaking technical report on the pricing of cancer medicines and the associated impacts. (Download the report here (PDF): This report highlights the exorbitant annual sales of originator companies such as Celgene following the expiry of their principal patents. This company, with its patents, has now been acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb. (See Celgene, sold for $74 billion, leaves a legacy of chutzpah in science and drug pricing,

Out of pocket expenditures for ongoing and expensive treatments such as lenalidomide create catastrophic financial burdens for cancer patients. See World Cancer Day 2019 – Financial and Economic Impact at – Select Factsheets and scroll down.

The advocacy campaign, including patient stories and clinical perspectives, will be highlighted on the Cancer Alliance website at

The campaign ties in to the international World Cancer Day initiatives.

About the Cancer Alliance

Cancer Alliance is a collective group of cancer control non-profit organisations and cancer advocates brought together under a common mandate, to provide a platform of collaboration for cancer civil society to speak with one voice and be a powerful tool to affect change for all South African adults and children affected by cancer.

The 29 cancer control non-profit organisation and cancer advocates include:

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For more information:
Contact Cancer Alliance Project Manager, Access to Medicine campaign, Salomé Meyer at +27 (0) 79 483 3175 or email or visit

For media queries, contact Lynne Smit at Conversations Squared 021 556 4777 or email

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