The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Pharmaceutical robbery

Nov 5, 2007

The pharmaceutical company Genentech sells two very similar products in the U.S. Both counter the out-of-control growth of blood vessels.

The first, Lucentis, is used against macular degeneration, a condition of the eye which blinds millions of older people. It costs more than $2,000 for each shot, which has to be repeated nine times.

The second, Avastin, which is older, is used against cancer. It costs $70 a shot.

Ophthalmologists discovered they could replace Lucentis by Avastin, which seems to work very well. At the much lower price, many more people can afford it. The sales of outrageously priced Lucentis suddenly dropped off.

So what’s a pharmaceutical company to do when one of its treatments costs only one thirtieth the price of another, but is just as helpful? Genentech found the solution: it raised the price of Avastin ten fold in the United States when it’s used by ophthalmologists.

Genentech might as well say it: “Your money or your eyes!”