Price of Treatment Might Dissuade Patients
Doctors are warning that the potential $100,000 annual price for use of Genentech's colon cancer medication Avastin as a treatment for breast or lung cancer could discourage patients from seeking the treatment, the New York Times reports. According to the Times, studies show that Avastin -- which is FDA-approved for the treatment of colon cancer -- prolongs late-stage breast or lung cancer patients' lives by several months if combined at a higher dose with existing drugs.
Some doctors currently prescribe Avastin for off-label use to treat breast or lung cancer, and Genentech later this year plans to seek FDA approval for such uses, the Times reports. The company has announced that it plans to charge approximately $100,000 annually for Avastin as a treatment for breast or lung cancer, nearly double the drug's current cost as a colon cancer treatment.
According to the Times, pharmaceutical companies commonly attribute high drug prices to research and development costs.
However, executives at Genentech and Roche, the company's majority shareholder, attribute Avastin's price to its value as a lifesaving therapy, the Times reports. The higher price for Avastin as a treatment for breast or lung cancer can be partly attributed to using a higher dose of the drug to treat those conditions, the Times reports.
Some doctors say the proposed price is discouraging patients from taking Avastin as a breast or lung cancer treatment, and health insurers often do not cover treatments for uses that do not have FDA approval, the Times reports.
Paul Bunn, director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, said, "Insurers may say, 'It's not approved for that indication, so we're not paying for it.'"
Patients who want to take Avastin for breast or lung cancer treatment have to sign a waiver promising to reimburse the hospital for the cost if their health insurers decline coverage, according to the Times.
"A couple of patients have refused to sign or take treatment," Bunn said.
Some doctors also say Genentech's $8,800 per month pricing plan for Avastin could encourage other pharmaceutical companies to raise prices for their cancer treatments, the Times reports.
Susan Desmond-Hellmann, president of product development at Genentech, said, "I don't think any patient should go without a Genentech drug for an inability to pay" (Berenson, New York Times, 2/15).