PHARMA: Reprieve for Amgen looking doubtful

In a story titled somewhat cryptically Medicare chief stands by anemia move (do they mean he’s trying to become anemic?) Reuters reports that CMS is not backing down from its decision to radically cut payments for anti-anemia drugs for chemotherapy patients. In English this means that Amgen’s Arenesp (& Epogen, though that’s not officially for cancer patients) and J&J’s Procit (which is Epogen re-marketed by J&J) are not going to recover their lost sales from last year.  Those sales began to be lost when studies revealed that the fairly rampant use of those drugs was overuse, and also that they were causing some severe side-effects.

Of course for reasons that we all know (e.g. they have little to do with clinical endpoints and more to do with financial ones), community oncologists have flipped out. I do like the response from Dr. Barry Straube, the chief medical officer at CMS. He said:

Our staff looked at over 800 evidenced-based articles published in the literature," he said. "I doubt seriously whether most clinicians read all 800."

Of course the real impact of this was not on patients per se, but on Amgen’s stock price, which has not had the best of years. The little rally late last year was on hopes that CMS would change its mind. I’m afraid that that gravy train looks like it’s over.


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Gregory D. Pawelski
Gregory D. Pawelski

What do we do about the anemia drug controversy? Most doctors and patients would agree the drugs are very helpful for patients when used to correct “severe” anemia, which can be debilitating and even life-threatening. The drugs reduce the need for somewhat risky blood transfusions and can give patients more energy and improve their quality of life. ”These are drugs that were presumed to be entirely safe, given for supportive care and to improve quality of life,” not to actually treat cancer, said Dr. Eric Winer, director of breast oncology center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. ”So any… Read more »