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Genentech And Readers Not Seeing Eye To Eye

Friday, 19 Oct 2007 | 8:04 AM ET

My recent posts on Genentech trying to crack down on doctors using its cheaper cancer drug Avastin instead of the more expensive Lucentis to treat patients with age-related macular degeneration, elicited a lot of emails from readers all over the world. As you may know, age related macular degeneration is the leading cause of adult blindness and the two drugs made by Genentech are very similar.

Carol Norwell from the UK writes, "I would like to say I have never known such abject, ugly greed as that shown by the recent actions of Genentech. I hope a cure is found very soon, if only to cut the profits of such an evil company. Uncompromising corporate greed, that shows the true face of the pharma's."

Elizabeth Griffith from France sent two emails. I previously shared a portion of the first one. Here's more from the second: "I was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration and subsequently received 3 treatments with Avastin in my right eye. The disease was completely stopped and my vision restored. I feel extremely fortunate to be living in France where this drug can be used. I find it appalling that Genentech, based solely on the financial aspects of Lucentis vs Avastin (using the smoke screen of "approved use"), should resort to such measures."

A man, who says he's a retinal physician, asked to remain anonymous if I reprinted part of what he wrote: "It is my observation and opinion that the retinal physician community (actually only about 1,500 physicians across the country) is furious at Genentech for changing their Avastin distribution policy. I believe that the recent decision regarding Avastin will actually backfire and result in more and more physicians dropping Lucentis simply out of anger with the company (again, many physicians feel that the two drugs have equal efficacy). We believe we will still be able to obtain Avastin for our patients, although it will be more difficult."

In fact, on its earnings conference call earlier this week Genentech officials acknowledged as much. They said they're aware that doctors will still be able to buy Avastin by doing an end-around the so-called "compounding pharmacies"--the businesses that break up Avastin into smaller, syringe-sized doses for the eye which Genentech is targeting. On the call one official said, "We believe we did the right thing. We don't expect everyone to see it that way."

That is clearly the case based on the emails I've received. Here's a couple more:

74-year-old Pat Borer, who says she got an Avastin injection for her AMD on September 27th of this year writes, "I think Genentech is being socially irresponsible. Maybe their lights should go out and not those with AMD. I am very disgusted with Genentech's attitude on Avastin…."

And Carolyn Brown, who says she's being treated with Lucentis writes, "By restricting availability of Avastin, I believe Genentech is practicing medicine. The choice of Lucentis or Avastin should be the physician's, not Genentech's (and not the insurer's either, but that's another issue). The drug companies and insurers need to back off and leave the practice of medicine to doctors!"

I don't think we've heard the end of this but this is the end of my postings for the week. I'm off to, yes, Chicago/South Bend to hopefully watch the USC Trojans hit their stride again and beat the hapless Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. And, no, I didn't have to pay the kind of prices my colleague Darren Rovell is talking about on his blog. I'm lucky to have gotten very good seats at face value through a friend of mine with a close connection to a USC Trustee (Thank you!).

On Monday, I'll be reporting live from the interventional cardiologists convention in Washington, DC to take the pulse of the multi-billion dollar and fast-changing stent industry. See you then.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com