Friday, July 07, 2006

Liquid Gold

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.


Anonymous said...

I was watching the news on this about a week ago and it really pissed me off. That pharma companies would screw people and taxpayers out of money is not news, but sometimes you juat have to wonder why our congress REFUSES to ever investigate these criminals.

Oh silly me, I forgot, they OWN congress. There used to be a saying that went.

Congress: The best that money can buy.

Sorry but I think it should be more in the line of:

Congress, the biggest crooks money can buy.

But not by any means lately the best, more likely, the WORST CONGRESS that is for sale.

Anonymous said...

One of these years doctor, perhaps write a bit about off-label uses of drugs, if only for me..

Doctors can continue to use Avastin for wet macular degeneration but they are in more danger of disciplinary action if an averse reaction occurs than if they now use the expensively packaged variation, Lucentis, which has a FDA approved indication for the disease.

Anonymous said...

I liken this "new" Genentech drug to the Interferon of Schering Plough. Once used for certain cancers, its protocol was somehow transferred over for possible use with HCV. (Let's pick an arbitrary 3mu 3x week and see what happens!)
Although there was no 'cure' for HCV, Schering determined to rebundle this drug at a very high price ( Ribavirin).

Imagine that. One might wonder if they employ the same marketing firms.