Drug maker Genentech bumps $40 drug with $2000 version. Here's the scoop:
Avastin ($40) is one of Genentech’s blockbuster cancer drugs. It treats patients with colon and lung cancer and is being studied worldwide in about 300 clinical trials for more than 20 tumor types. It's also being used by eye doctors across the country to treat neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is considered an off-label use.
Avastin is going head-to-head with a drug called Lucentis ($2000) that was approved last year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for AMD. Lucentis is also owned by Genentech.
Although it’s not stopping the off-label use of Avastin, Genentech recently announced a move that will make it harder for physicians to prescribe the medication. Starting in January, specialized pharmacies will no longer be able to purchase the product from wholesale distributors. This hurts doctors - and patients - since they need the help of specialized compounding pharmacies to break down initial allotments of Avastin into amounts needed for eye injections. This limits doctors to prescribing the more expensive medication, Lucentis.
Genentech cited safety issues as the reason for halting the sales to compounding pharmacies and they deny their motive is financially driven. Color me skeptical. The company was asked to conduct a study comparing the effectiveness of Lucentis and Avastin in treating AMD, but the company declined since Lucentis has FDA approval and they see no need for spending money on research to certify the other drug for use.
However, all is not lost for the patients forced to use the more expensive drug. Taxpayers are coming to the rescue. U.S. government funds will be used to compare the effectiveness and safety of the two treatments.
As this doctor at PNHP said, "Isn’t the marketplace beautiful?"
And he goes on to astutely note: "If Avastin passes muster, Genentech will surely release it as a product specifically reformulated for retinal use, at a bargain price of $1900 per dose."
Well of course they will. Putting profits ahead of patients is the American way.