PHARMA: Health Business Blog interviews Genentech about Avastin

This is a pretty good example of a smart consultant using his blog to explain something complex. David Williams at the Health Business Blog got an on the record interview from Genentech about Avastin and Lucentis. If you know the background story skip this and go to the Interview with Genentech about Avastin distribution changes.

If you haven’t been following at home here’s a quick synopsis (and I’m in a rush and doing this from memory so I hope I get it right—please comment if you know more!).

Avastin is a biotech cancer drug intended for IV use. Then some
opthamologists found out randomly that it works well for macular
degeneration in the eye—a big cause of blindness among the elderly. The
key difference is of course that while it’s a very expensive drug in
the quantities needed for cancer tumors, in the eye you only need a
tiny amount. Sometime around then a little side-business in repackaging
Avantis in small quantities for opthamologists started up.

Once Genentech figured this out they repackaged the drug (and
changed it slightly) for macular degeneration and called it Lucentis.
Here’s the controversial piece; they priced the tiny dose at about the
same rate as a dose of Avastin.

This lead to some screaming in the media (and on THCB)
from patients who were now facing huge price increases (it’s a drug you
need over and over again), and effectively it’s gone from less than
$100 to more than $1,000 a dose. Then Genentech tried to stop the
repackaging by cutting off Avastin supplies to those who were doing it.

Now there are two sides to every story, or one an a half, but the
clear message going back to Genetech was that they were sticking it to
the consumer. A consumer, we note who was facing blindness.

Last week Genentech, upon pressure from the opthamologists seem to have abandoned that plan.

But it is all more complex than that. But hopefully now you’re ready for the Interview with Genentech about Avastin distribution changes.

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5 replies »

  1. Well, this comment thread is dead so your best bet is to go read David Williams who is NOT a company flack. His interview was with Dawn Kalmar who IS a company flack. One point that jumps right out at you to show her dishonesty is the complaint that they had to destroy $200 million of Avantis on orders from the FDA due to contamination. Unless their production line is capacity limited, that translates into probably $2 to $5 million in actual cost at most. Now do I think a smaller molecule, better formulation, and more strict manufacturing has value, but NOT > $10,000 per year

  2. Elliot – rather than just name calling can you please provide us with some point by point analysis for why the Genentech interview and explanation does not hold water.
    Just because David Williams is a supposed “company flack” does not automatically mean all of his points are worthless. For those of us who are more naive and not up to speed it would be a great education to hear your opinion in more detail.

  3. Huh? Company flack defends company, but adds nothing to the discussion. It’s pretty generous to refer to that as stating another side of the story.