This article today in the WashingtonPost is just so embarrassing for biotechnology corporation Genentech it's almost laughable. Genentech makes two drugs for an eye disease, wet age-related macular degeneration, also known as wet AMD, that eventually results in blindness if left untreated. Lucentis costs $2000 per injection, Avastin costs $50. The bill for both is typically footed by Medicare because the disease primarily affects the elderly. The difference between the two drugs? Dose packaging and intended use instructions. The similarity between the two drugs? Effectiveness in stopping the disease.

The article starts with the premise that the cheaper drug should be available for use instead of the more expensive one but isn't because Genentech wants the greater profits from selling the more expensive option. It then takes each of Genentech's arguments, one by one, and just keeps on explaining, using testimony from industry groups and scientists, why Genentech is wrong. And it goes on for 5 pages.

Genentech says Lucentis justifiably costs more to manufacture. Scientists familiar with manufacturing say that's unlikely, and it potentially costs less than the cheaper Avastin. Genentech says Avastin is not as safe for the eye. Scientists point to clinical trials that show it's just as safe, and point to the fact that it is used for 56% of incidents of the disease. That is, there would be masses of the public receiving the cheaper drug now experiencing adverse side effects if that were a concern. The company tried to claim than an FDA report about problems manufacturing Avastin made it unsuitable only for use in the eye. The FDA responded that the company was misconstruing its report, and that the problems it found would have been a problem for both its other use as a cancer treatment and its off label use in the eye. There's more, feel free to read the article, it's quite entertaining.


I love this type of journalism. I can't imagine the authors didn't enjoy the rush of documenting just how wrong this massive corporation was. I almost feel bad for the company, except they are still abusing Medicare for billions in profits so this is a pretty small loss for them.

Single page print link for those who prefer.