Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Did you know the Mafia had an MBA program?

You want to live, sweetie, that will cost you 100 grand, but it's up to you—Everyone knows the drug companies are pirates but it's still shocking when the eye-patch comes off. Meet Genentech. And ImClone Systems.

The main excuse for the high price of drugs in the U.S. is the claim that the profits go to research and if they didn't charge huge amounts, no one could afford to discover new drugs.There are several problems with that argument. One, why should U.S. consumers pay for research so the companies can sell their drugs to the rest of the world? We pay exorbitant prices so the French can get the drugs cheap? Second, they still do research in countries with price controls, apparently not deterred by the lower profits. Third, and most important, that's bullshit. They spend most of that money on promotion. Watched any television lately? Whatever.

Now Genentech has decided, for a change, to be honest. They have a drug called Avastin, widely used to treat colon cancer. Experts say it is very good, so bravo to them. But now it seems Avastin can also be used for breast and lung cancer treatment, but at double the dose. Genentech plans to price it so it will cost$100,000 a year for the drug in those cases. Even patients with insurance may be getting screwed; those without insurance are simply can die now. But Genentech and it's parent, Roche, aren't justifying the price by the usual crap of the cost of research. Here's the response: "As we look at Avastin and Herceptin [a similar drug] pricing, right now the health economics hold up, and therefore I don't see any reason to be touching them," said William M. Burns, the chief executive of Roche's pharmaceutical division and a member of Genentech's board. "The pressure on society to use strong and good products is there." In other words, if you want to live, you come up with the money.

Meanwhile, Imclone Systems has a drug even more expensive, Erbitux.

How bad is it? According to column in the Washington Post by Robert Wittes, a cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering:
The average wholesale price (AWP, or the average price charged to hospitals and physician practices) of a month of treatment for a normal-size adult is roughly $4,800 for Avastin and $12,000 for Erbitux. Since most colorectal-cancer patients for whom these drugs are medically appropriate receive them not singly but in combination with other chemotherapeutics, the monthly AWP is more like $11,000 for combinations including Avastin and $16,000 for Erbitux. Providers pass these costs on to patients, along with charges that cover the costs of pharmacy and dispensing. Courses of treatment generally last several months, but they can be much longer for patients who respond favorably. In other words, the cumulative cost of treatment can be astronomical.
The immorality of this is obvious. In some parts of the world, they burn down buildings because someone published a cartoon they don't like. In this country, we don't even burn down buildings when people are extorting us at the moment of death.

They used to hang pirates.

I will now go and wash my hands. Even typing this makes me feel dirty.

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