Suppose you made two drugs that did the same thing, but one sold for $60 a month and the other for $2,000. Wouldn’t you want to know if they were equally effective?
Not if you’re Genentech.
Those folks would rather bury their heads in the sand and maximize their profits.
Here’s the deal: Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is one of the leading causes of blindness in older people. Genentech got approval from the FDA for a drug called Lucentis that treats AMD by cutting blood flow to the affected area.
A month’s worth of injections cost $2,000.
Genentech was already making a wildly profitable drug called Avastin. In fact it was derived from the same mouse antibody as Lucentis. It was approved for cancer treatment and shrinks tumors by cutting the blood supply. In the doses necessary for cancer treatment, it’s tremendously expensive — as much as $100,000 a year.
But used "off-label" to treat AMD, the dosage is tiny; what most eye doctors think is just as effective a treatment as Lucentis costs about $60 a month.
Because AMD affects older people, much of the treatment cost falls to Medicare.
As the Associated Press reports:
"The financial stakes stemming from the study are huge. Medicare officials estimate that there could be 50,000 or more additional cases of macular degeneration a year.
"Treating just one year’s worth of new patients with Lucentis would cost $1.2 billion a year, compared with $60 million if they’re treated with Avastin, Medicare officials said."
The implications are big for Genentech’s finances, too. If the $60 Avastin treatment is just as good and safe as the $2,000 one, what market exists for Lucentis?
Right now the National Eye Institute is doing a comparative clinical head-to-head trial to see if there is any difference.
Genentech is refusing to cooperate. Its executives don’t want to know. Genentech had no problem taking $44.6 million from the National Cancer Institute to help develop Avastin. Now they won’t co-operate with the comparative clinical trial. In fact the company claims not to care what the results will be.
Genentech spokeswoman Krysta Pellegrino told Associated Press reporter Kevin Freking:
"No matter the outcome, we continue to believe Lucentis is the most appropriate treatment for wet AMD."
Why worry about the facts? Why even find out what they are if it hurts your profits?
When it comes to risk, Genentech gleefully socializes it by taking government funding. When it comes to protecting sales, they’re greedy capitalists who don’t care about the truth.