Did Genentech Back Down or Backpedal?


So, it didn't take long after my Genentech blog entry got posted yesterday for me to receive an email and a voicemail from a Genentech spokesperson requesting a "clarification" on my take regarding the latest chapter in the Avastin vs. Lucentis brouhaha.

She objected to my characterization of the latest move as Genentech "backing down," and to my paraphrasing of the compromise with eye doctors as the company essentially saying, "Never mind." She pointed out that the renegotiated restrictions on Avastin distribution will still take effect on New Year's Day.

I think I'm being spun. In the Genentech press release it says -- and this is a direct quote -- "…we have determined that physicians can prescribe Avastin and purchase it directly from authorized wholesale distributors and wholesalers can ship to the destination of the physician's choice, including to hospital pharmacies, compounding pharmacies or directly to the physician's office."

Compounding pharmacies are the ones that take the Avastin and split it up into much smaller doses so doctors can use it to inject the drug into the eye just as they would with Lucentis. In a letter to physicians on Oct. 11, which you can see for yourself by clicking here , the company wrote -- and again, this is a direct quote -- "…Genentech will no longer allow compounding pharmacies to purchase the product directly from wholesale distributors."

If that's not backing down or a "never mind," I don't know what is. Genentech maintains the use of Avastin instead of Lucentis poses a potential contamination and safety risk and that only Lucentis has been clinically proven to be safe and effective for age-related macular degeneration. Tests showed the drug may not only stop or slow vision loss, but in some patients it may actually improve their sight.

In early trading that looks like a bit of a Santa Claus rally, shares of Genentech are up again. Maybe lower Lucentis sales expectations were already baked into the stock. Or maybe, as the company spokesperson suggests, I'm misreading all this.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com