Drug company's secret inducements to get docs to use $2,000 drug instead of $20 sibling

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The New York Times reports:

Genentech has begun offering secret rebates to eye doctors as an apparent inducement to get them to use more of the company’s expensive drug Lucentis rather than a less costly alternative.

Under the program, which started on Oct. 1, medical practices can earn up to tens of thousands of dollars in rebates each quarter if they use a lot of Lucentis and if their usage increases from the previous quarter, according to a confidential document outlining the program that was obtained by The New York Times.

Lucentis, approved in 2006, is mainly used to treat age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. It costs about $2,000 for each injection, with an injection into the eye needed as often as once a month.

The competition comes from Avastin, another Genentech drug that has the same mode of action. While Avastin is approved only to treat cancer, many retina specialists say it works just as well in the eye as Lucentis. So they are using it off-label because each injection costs only $20 to $50.

Using Avastin instead of Lucentis saves Medicare — and costs Genentech — hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

By the way, if you haven’t read, pharma’s pretty happy with this week’s election results.

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Comments (6)

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Jay R.

November 6, 2010 at 2:54 pm

There are more than just eye doctors doing this in the medical world. My wife works in a pharmacy and has told me stories about elderly people coming in with high dollar name brand prescriptions, when there are much cheaper generic brands of the drug available.
Thanks for posting this article, it is an eye opener for some of naive people out there.
-Jay R.

Dr. Gayle Eversole

November 9, 2010 at 11:55 am

Avastin causes blood clots. Perhaps that may be a reason to avoid the drug.
Actually some studies reported 30+ years ago show that vitamin C in proper form and adequate doses will prevent macular degeneration. Other natural approaches have been studied and shown to be effective.
Hyperbaric O2 and chelation may also be helpful.
It is too bad that mainstream medicine is in such lock step with PhRMA, at the expense of people health.


November 11, 2010 at 6:36 am

It’s things like this that keep health care costs high and require intervention from the government to right the ship.