Geeta Anand had another sob story about the high price of biotech drugs. This time it was about Revlimid, Celgene’s drug for treating multiple mylema, Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) an illness associated with the underproduction of blood cells and possibly ALS if the results with transgenic mice are replicated in human trials. Geeta is upset that Revlimid retails for about $6400 a month. Mind you, that’s for a drug which appears to extend for a year or more the lives of about 6000 people who are facing certain death. The cancer stopped progressing in most patients after seven treatments and they were disease free 9.6 months after followup. People with multiple myeloma can live disease free for years. A true breakthrough. Is that worth $6400 a month. A house in the Hamptons is. So is a month at Harvard for the matter.
Revlimid is also approved to treat patients with transfusion-dependent anemia due to low- or intermediate-1-risk myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) associated with a deletion 5q cytogenetic abnormality with or without additional cytogenetic abnormalities. That is, it’s a genetically targeted therapy for MDS which itself affects about 10000 people a year.
Both diseases are devastating, either fatal or life crippling. But they are not blockbuster in size. They are orphan diseases. Revlimid is a medicine that will control them with specific regimens and in specific quantities. As it is studied further, funding for which will come from Celgene’s well deserved profits and not any idiotic Cracker Jack prize competition suggested by Jamie Love or Bernie Sanders in lieu of real rewards (let’s divide .5 of our GDP by the contribution of the increase to the quality of life years divided by the number of patients, less the total cost of care, less the NIH investment which equals the reward less the 90 percent tax rate…) and in the wake of patent seizures, we might see even wider and newer uses, including ALS.
And one more thing. What if Celgene is a one hit wonder? Celegene now has a full pipeline of products in development. What if none of them get approved? Revlimid might have a 97 percent gross margin but that goes to pay for all the other research. That’s the company’s venture capital for future biomedical discovery activity. You can’t finance the future of medicine on WSJ criticism or Jamie Love’s Cracker Jack prizes. And by the way, isn’t worth $72k to beat back cancer?