By Curt Pesman and Mary Miller
In an unusual move, sanofi pharmaceutical company has instituted a 50 percent discount, effective immediately, on its latest cancer drug Zaltrap. The reason for the sharp price drop, company officials said, was “market resistance” to the initial price.
One possible result of the price cut is that the new drug may become more widely available. However, due to complex pricing and regulation issues, it’s not yet known how the actual cost to patients will change over the next several months. Fight Colorectal Cancer is gathering more information today on this issue from oncologists and company officials.
The FDA approved Zaltrap (ziv-aflibercept) less than 3 months ago for treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer which had progressed despite other regimens of chemotherapy.
But in an unusual twist to a cancer/patient drug story, three doctors from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center wrote a letter to The New York Times, explaining why the famed hospital decided not to include Zaltrap among its formulary of colon cancer medicines. In short, they said, the price, set higher than other reportedly equivalent drugs, was too steep. This Op-Ed letter was viewed as one strong signal by many in the cancer care community that prices for certain drugs may not be sustainable in many instances.
As reported by The Cancer Letter newsletter and then The New York Times on Nov. 8, the drug manufacturer, sanofi, reviewed its pricing policy and based on “market resistance,” decided to offer an immediate 50 percent discount.
However, patients may not see an immediate cost savings themselves, because of the complexities of how Medicare (and other insurers) set and adjust reimbursement rates.
Like most cancer drugs given intravenously, patients don’t buy Zaltrap directly; they pay doctors or hospitals which buy the drug and get reimbursed by Medicare or other insurers. Medicare’s reimbursement rate for new drugs is based on the initial set price at least for several months until an “average sales price” is established. But this type of quick, dramatic price reduction might demand a change in reimbursement rules.
Stay tuned. Fight Colorectal Cancer will follow this issue closely.
Meanwhile, clinical studies are underway to better define which specific patients might do better with Zaltrap or other drug combinations.
And while the steep cost of most new cancer drugs is a pressing issue—for patients and others who pay for the drugs—one fact remains: There were only two drugs (5FU and leucovorin) to treat colorectal cancer until just the past 10-15 years. Now there are more drugs, plus newer targeted therapies providing many choices and combinations of FDA-approved medicines. People are being cured, or living longer even with advanced colorectal cancer
Sources: The Cancer Letter, Special Issue, Vol 38, No. 42, Nov. 8, 2012; and The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2012.
Disclosure: Fight Colorectal Cancer has accepted funding for projects and educational programs from sanofi-aventis in the form of unrestricted educational grants. Fight Colorectal Cancer has ultimate authority over website content. See the Fight Colorectal Cancer Funding Policy and Disclosure.