California Biotech Drawing Criticism for Treatment Availability
Genentech's plan to limit the availability of cancer drug Avastin, which would require physicians to use a more expensive version of the drug called Lucentis to treat wet age-related macular degeneration, will cost taxpayers $1 billion to $3 billion annually, according to Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Bloomberg/New York Times reports (Bloomberg/New York Times, 11/29).
Genentech officials are considering a plan under which wholesalers no longer would distribute Avastin to compounding pharmacies, which divide vials of the medication into small portions for use in the eye. Genentech also manufactures the similar drug Lucentis, which FDA approved last year as a treatment for the eye disease, the most common cause of blindness in the elderly.
Lucentis costs $1,950 per dose, about 100 times more than the cost of the dose of Avastin required to treat the eye disease.
In letters to CMS and FDA that were made public on Wednesday, Kohl wrote the company's decision "is of great concern to me." Kohl also wrote a letter to Genentech informing them of a future investigation by his staff of the Avastin restrictions.
In a statement, Genentech said, "The request is a voluntary request for information," adding, "Genentech intends to cooperate with Sen. Kohl's request for information and work closely with committee staff to answer their questions."
According to the Contra Costa Times, some have requested that Genentech conduct a study comparing the two drugs, but it has no plans to do so.
Company spokesperson Krysta Pellegrino said, "For Genentech, we think our resources would be better spent to continue to do research in unmet patient needs." She added, "We believe that we've already shown that Lucentis is the right treatment for this eye disease" (Morrill, Contra Costa Times, 11/29).