Eye Doctor Accuses Lucentis Maker Of “Bribing” Doctors

Genentech, manufacturer of a pricey macular degeneration medication is being accused of bribing doctors to prescribe <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/defective_drugs">Lucentis—at $2,000 a shot—over the cheaper $50-per-shot Avastin, said ABC Local.

According to a New York Times article featuring Dr. Greg Rosenthal, Genentech is bribing physicians to prescribe Lucentis over Avastin, despite that similar outcomes are realized from both medications, said ABC Local. Dr. Rosenthal also said that the drug firm is using “unethical tactics” to ensure doctors use Lucentis, added ABC Local.

It seems, said the New York Times, Genentech offers “secret rebates” when certain criteria are met, wrote ABC Local. Although the rebates are allegedly legal, doctors are questioning the ethics, including Dr. Rosenthal, a retina specialist.

Citing a confidential document obtained by the New York Times, doctors can earn tens of thousands of dollars from the rebate program in one year, said ABC Local. “My problem with the program is not that the company wants to incentivize doctors at the least and bribe them at worst to use the product, but my problem is that they are accepting payments for something that is not in the patients’ best interest,” said Dr. Rosenthal, quoted ABC Local.

Meanwhile, Avastin was approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004 to treat colon cancer; in 2006, the agency approved it as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer; and, in 2008, the FDA approved Avastin as a breast cancer treatment. In 2008, Genentech said its partner, Roche Holding AG, received 38 reports of eye inflammation linked to Avastin between November 4th and 20th, 2008, from four different reporting sites. According to Genentech, 32 of the cases were serious. In all of the cases, Avastin was being used off-label to treat wet macular degeneration, which can cause blindness.

Some doctors divide Aventis into multiple doses in order to use it as a low-cost alternative to Lucentis. Similar cases of eye infections are reported in about two percent of Lucentis patients, Genentech has said previously.

Meanwhile, according to ABC Local, although some point to Avastin being used off-label, Dr. Rosenthal notes that most drugs—about 80 percent—are prescribed off label. “Most of the things we use Aspirin for are off label. Most of Penicillin’s uses are off label. When it works for millions of people there is no controversy,” quoted ABC Local. Dr. Rosenthal, said ABC Local, does not participate in the controversial rebate program.

In response, Genentech, which manufactures both medications, issued the following statement, quoted ABC Local: “Rebate and discount programs are a common business practice across the industry, including in the field of ophthalmology. We have these programs for many of Genentech’s medicines. Genentech offers a program that provides a rebate to Lucentis customers. This program is available to all practices that buy a minimum amount of the medicine. Genentech launched this program following the FDA approval of Lucentis for the treatment of RVO, a new indication. Genentech structures all its rebate and discount programs, including the new Lucentis program, to comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Rebate and discount programs help reduce the cost of our medicines for hospitals, pharmacies and doctors.”

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