Wet Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 65. And it is a wonderful thing when a new drug gets approved, which can treat this terrible disease.
But what if it turns out that new drug isn't really so new, that it is really the equivalent of selling bottled water at $2 per bottle instead of paying perhaps 2 cents for hundreds of gallons of tap water?
Don't get me wrong, water is essential, and so is this new drug, developed by Genentech.
The drug is called Lucentis, and a doctor needs to inject it into the eye. Here's a description of the drug: Lucentis is a humanized antibody fragment designed to bind and inhibit Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A (VEGF-A), a protein that is believed to play a critical role in angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels). These blood vessels cause the blindness.
But here's the description of another Genentech drug, called Avastin: AVASTIN® is a recombinant humanized monoclonal IgG1 antibody that binds to and inhibits the biologic activity of human vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).
Detect the very similar language? Yep. The reason is that these are virtually the same drugs.
So what's going on here, you may wonder?
Well, Avastin is a great cancer drug. It costs about $50,000 a year when used intravenously to treat colon cancer.
But it can also be used to treat Wet Macular Degeneration. The "problem" is that very low doses are needed, so the cost for an injection into the eye is only about $20 to $100. So annual cost is "only" about $1,000.
That's not good news for Genentech.
So they "developed" Lucentis.
And whops, now the cost for an injection of the "new" drug Lucentis is expected to be from $1,500 to well over $2,000. And the annual cost will be over $10,000.
And the world is back to where it should be, with very expensive drugs.
And that's the way Genentech likes the world.