Drugs and Profits: NYT Op-Ed on Avastin

Dr. Frederick C. Tucker recently wrote an opinion on the state of Avastin–a very expensive anti-cancer drug designed to suppress the growth of breast cancer tumors when used jointly with primary chemotherapy drugs such as Taxol. Avastin received accelerated approval by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but is now known for having significantly toxic side effects that outweigh quality of life, does not lengthen patient lives and whose approval is likely to be revoked.

Avastin itself is part of a new class of modern drugs generally referred to as biologics–medicines derived from an organic source. Akin in the way that vaccines are derived from pathogenic bacteria or viruses, many new biologic drugs are derived from recombinant DNA. The value of biologics has largely been contested and in cases like Avastin, where it costs an additional $90,000 to treat one cancer patient a year, we might ask why we are willing to spend so much on a drug that neither improves the quality of life nor extends it?

Now that Avastin’s effectiveness as an anti-cancer drug is questioned, Genentech, Avastin’s manufacturer, is frantically trying to find a way to hold its market share by commissioning more studies to demonstrate improved quality of life or prove it’s value for treating another unrelated illness–macular degeneration. As Dr. Tucker writes, drug companies are better off spending their money on discovering a genuinely innovative medicine instead of marketing a failed one.

Dr. Tucker’s full op-ed on the case of Avastin can be read here.


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