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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19180

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Edwards J
Can Genzyme Make $3.5B a Year Giving Away a Drug for Free?
BNet 2010 Nov 24

Full text:

When Genzyme (GENZ) holds its December meeting to explain to investors why it believes sales of its new multiple sclerosis drug alemtuzumab might hit $3.5 billion a year (and thus justify its stubborness regarding Sanofi-Aventis‘ (SNY) buyout offer), members of the audience might want to ask if it is possible that the right hand of Genzyme’s supply chain can remain in the dark about what the left hand is doing.

That’s because alemtuzumab is already on the market under the name Campath as a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a blood cancer. Very little alemtuzumab is needed to treat an MS patient, so Genzyme is exploring ways of raising the price in order to meet its $3.5 billion revenue projection.

One possibility is that Genzyme will offer to supply the cancer patients with Campath free of charge. In return, the company would like the FDA’s permission to market alemtuzumab under a different name and charge the MS patients more than $30,000 a year.

In that scenario, what is to stop doctors getting their hands on the free cancer supply and using it to treat MS patients? Currently, Campath is sold in sets of 30mg ampules and delivered as an intravenous infusion. It wouldn’t be too difficult to mix-n-match those vials to deliver the several 12mg doses MS patients need.

I suspect Genzyme will be hoping to pull off the same sleight of hand that Roche (ROG.VX)’s Genentech unit has done with Lucentis for age-related macular degeneration and Avastin for cancer. For an eye treatment, Lucentis costs $2,000 a dose. If you use Avastin instead it only costs $50. Genentech has refused to study the difference between the two drugs and has funded charities for the blind to make sure they defend use of the more expensive drug. It’s up to to doctors and patients to take the “risk” of using one drug to treat the other condition.

Whether this will wash with Genzyme’s alemtuzumab is another matter. Everyone knows it’s the same substance. The question is, will Genzyme be able to make its supply chain and its drug packaging so obstructive that it becomes nigh impossible to use Campath for MS?


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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909