Friday, October 19, 2007

Avastin/Lucentis Update 19: U.S. Senator Seeks Answers About the Cost Differential from Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services

This posting, ran this evening in the WSJ Health Blog.

Sen. Kohl Queries Medicare on Genentech Drugs

WSJ Health Blog
Posted by Jacob Goldstein
October 19, 2007, 5:14 pm

Herb Kohl, the chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, asked the federal agency that runs Medicare some tough questions about the billions of dollars it may have to spend if lots of Medicare patients with a serious eye disease use Lucentis instead of Avastin.

Kohl's letter, sent yesterday, cites a story that ran in the WSJ last week (and initially appeared, in shorter form, in the Health Blog), describing a move by Genentech to block sales of the drug to certain specialized pharmacies. That could make it more difficult for some patients to be treated with Avastin for an eye disease called wet macular degeneration.

Avastin, a cancer drug sold by Genentech, hasn't been approved for use in the eye. But many retina specialists maintain it is as effective as Lucentis, a Genentech drug that is approved to treat wet macular degeneration. Genentech has said the FDA voiced safety concerns about the repackaging of Avastin for use in the eye.

A dose of Avastin for the eye costs about $40, compared with about $2,000 for Lucentis.

The letter asks the acting administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services how much the agency has spent on Lucentis and Avastin in the last few years. Kohl also wants to know what CMS has done "to explore the reduction of expenditures on expensive drugs such as Lucentis by using alternative treatments such as Avastin."

Another branch of the government is taking direct action on the Avastin/Lucentis question. The National Institutes of Health has committed to fund a head-to-head trial of the drugs to see how they compare in treating macular degeneration.

Here is the link to Sen. Kohl’s letter.


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