And Speaking of Pharmaceutical Companies… [The Corpus Callosum]. This is pretty sickening:
firm blocks cheap blindness cure
Company will only seek licence for medicine that costs 100
Sarah Boseley, health editor
Saturday June 17, 2006
A major drug company is blocking access to a medicine that is cheaply
and effectively saving thousands of people from going blind because it
wants to launch a more expensive product on the market.
Ophthalmologists around the world, on their own initiative, are
injecting tiny quantities of a colon cancer drug called Avastin
[link added] into the eyes of patients with wet macular degeneration, a
common condition of older age that can lead to severely impaired
eyesight and blindness. They report remarkable success at very low cost
because one phial can be split and used for dozens of patients.
But Genentech [link added], the company that invented Avastin, does not want it used
in this way. Instead it is applying to license a fragment of Avastin,
called Lucentis, which is packaged in the tiny quantities suitable for
eyes at a higher cost. Speculation in the US suggests it could cost
£1,000 per dose instead of less than £10. The
company says Lucentis [link added] is specifically
designed for eyes, with modifications over Avastin, and has been
through 10 years of testing to prove it is safe….
Sometimes, reports such as this are exaggerated. I just saw
this, and have not looked into any more than just reading the news
article. But it appears to convey a valid, serious, concern.
Sometimes pharma just shoot themselves in the foot. There is probably a better explanation for the 100 fold increase in price than sheer greed but they do not seem to have provided that reason. So all the media feeds the story that pharma companies are out to rip off the patients. Macular degeneration is a horrible disease and anything that can fight it will be used. But to raise the price 100-fold will seem like price gouging.
Both Avastin and Lucentis appear to be antibodies to VEGF, a protein that is involved in blood vessel formation, a key component of macular degeneration. Lucentis is a fragment of the whole antibody, so it is smaller and may be able to penetrate tissues that the full antibody structure can not. But it does not appear that Genentech has done a head to head comparison between Avastin and Lucentis. So docs are taking Avastin, diluting it down and using it, at a cost in the tens of dollar range, rather than using the repackaged fragment, Lucentis, which is in the $2000 range.
Avastin is used as an anti-tumor drug. It is normally priced to be used in high doses. But macular degeneration is used in much smaller doses. It is a use that was probably not anticipated when the pricing for Avastin was determined. So, now it appears the Genentech might be trying to do an end run around the price differential by reformulating the drug and increasing the effective price.
Genentech had to know that simply repricing this would cause an uproar over possible price gouging. It should have prepared the market better with medical rationales for this. I wonder if the insurance companies will be as happy to reimburse for a $2000 treatment if a $20 treatment would have worked as well? Genentech may have a touch row to hoe with this. It should be interesting.