Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Cheap Cure Clashes with Big Profits (Guess Which Wins): If you were the head of corporate communications for a drug company, what’s the worst headline you can imagine waking up to? Probably something that involved your product name and a few hundred dead people. But this, from the front page of this morning’s Guardian, can’t be far behind: “Drugs firm blocks cheap blindness cure.”

The subhead explains the motivation: “Company will only seek license for medicine that costs 100 times more.” And the lead paragraph provides a quick summary of the article, for those still laboring under the misapprehension that pharmaceutical companies care more about cures than profits: “A major drug company is blocking access to a medicine that is cheaply and effectively saving thousands of people from going blind because it wants to launch a more expensive product on the market.”

The company in question in Genentech, and its anti-cancer drug Avastin is being injected in tiny quantities by ophthalmologists around the world into the eyes of patients with wet macular degeneration. “But Genentech, the company that invented Avastin, does not want it used in this way. Instead it is applying to license a fragment of Avastin, called Lucentis, which is packaged in the tiny quantities suitable for eyes at a higher cost. Speculation in the US suggests it could cost £1,000 per dose instead of less than £10.”

The company gets to offer its explanation, which is that Avastin has not been safety tested for this use, but the article takes pains to point out that while individual physicians are gathering data, only the company can afford to pay for a substantial clinical trial, and it’s not interested.

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