Genentech Über Alles

A leafy door:

branchred door

When we last looked at Avastin, we described how our voracious Bay Area pharmaceutical predator Genentech is blocking use of Avastin to treat some forms of blindness (most specifically my form) because they make another drug costing fifteen times as much that they prefer doctors to use.

Meanwhile, the latest news on Avastin is that the FDA yesterday approved its use in treating late-stage breast cancer. I quote from an article in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle:

“Last year, Avastin surpassed Genentech’s previous top-selling cancer drug, Rituxan, bringing the South San Francisco biotechnology giant $2.3 billion in revenue in 2007, when it primarily was prescribed to treat lung and colon cancer. Analysts have estimated Genentech could reap $1 billion in additional sales with its expansion to breast cancer patients.

“In after-hours trading, Genentech stock jumped $5.80, or 8 percent, to trade at $77.40.

“But some breast cancer activists expressed concerns about the drug’s efficacy as well as its expense, which is estimated at about $84,700 for an average 11-month course of therapy.

[The concern over the efficacy was merely that it didn’t seem to increase life expectancy. Worth concern, I’d think.] ….

“Genentech officials said the FDA approval allows breast cancer patients to apply for the company’s patient assistance program, which caps the annual cost of the drug to consumers and insurers at $55,000 a year. The program is open to patients whose annual income does not exceed $100,000.”

[I am speculating that for persons whose income is less than $55,000, Genentech’s generosity may extend to lowering the price all the way down to 100% of the user’s annual income even though this would be the camel’s nose of Socialized Medicine under the tent. I’m trying to organize a Gratitude Prayer Vigil on Genentech’s front lawn although I’ve been warned that their jack-booted, mace-spraying, taser-and-truncheon-wielding Private Peace Officers are standing ready to maintain order, and that their extra billion bucks will buy a lot of these thugs.]

After reading an earlier rant of mine, a friend pointed out that neither of us would be alive now were it not for the drug companies. True enough, but both of us would be on horses now if it weren’t for the automobile industry, and neither industry is selling its products for any reason other than to make money. I certain don’t think the pharmaceuticals are any greedier than the auto industry. The difference is that the less wealthy can buy used cars but few of us are interested in used drugs. Besides, most of us would find it easier to do without a car than without a drug that would prolong our sight or our lives, we find Big Pharm pricing its products out of our reach somehow more egregious.

Particularly when we notice that their research on vaccines and antibiotics, which prevent or cure disease, is minimal while their main efforts go into drugs that merely treat disease, drugs that bring them greater profits because you will have to keep buying them as long as you live…not that it isn’t reassuring that Glaxco, Squibb, Pfizer, Merck, et al. very much want me to live to at least 90, but it is rather less comforting to realize that they also want me to be sick the entire time.

And there’s hideous greed like Abbot’s Norvir ploy. The drug was initially marketed to be used as one of three in an AIDS cocktail in 1996. But then about 2002 doctors discovered that the stuff could be prescribed at a quarter of the original dosage because it somehow potentiated the other AIDS meds. Reducing the dosage had the additional beneficial effect of relieving some of its ugly side effects as well as cutting the enormous cost by three-quarters.

By this time Abbot had already recovered all of their 200 million dollars in research costs and had made billions of dollars in profits, but their response to the reduction in dosages was to quadruple the price. That’s just the outline. Actually it was far uglier than I describe, a truly sordid tale well substantiated by leaked internal documents…and various lawsuits and appeals to the FDA – which, alas, by this time was in Bush’s hands.

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