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Genentech Defends Supply Shift for Top Cancer Drugs

Company says move aimed at thwarting counterfeiters

Genentech, the biotechnology unit of Roche, has decided to allow only a handful of distributors to supply three of the world’s most-used cancer drugs. Now, the company is facing scrutiny as the health care industry cites delays and cost increases, according to a Reuters report.

In October, Genentech started supplying Avastin (bevacizumab), Herceptin (trastuzumab), and Rituxan (rituximab) to hospitals and clinics through six specialty distributors instead of going through wholesale distributors. In an open letter in the New York Times, Novation –– which negotiates supply contracts on behalf of prominent health care providers such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic –– urged Genentech to reverse its decision.

According to Novation, cancer patients could face delays in therapy because of shipping inconsistencies, while its member hospitals would pay an additional $50 million a year due to the changes. The group also pointed out that the new distribution model eliminates a discount of about 5% from the cost of the three medications when supplied by big wholesalers, such as Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Genentech believes, however, that it can guard against counterfeit versions of its drug hitting the market by going through specialty distributors. In 2012, Roche found that fake versions of Avastin were being sold.

“By utilizing specialty distributors, which have specific expertise in distributing specialty medicines and significantly fewer distribution centers, we are better able to manage and track our supply,” Genentech said in a statement.

The company also asserted that its move should not affect patients’ out-of-pocket expenses for care, which are determined by individual hospitals and insurers.

Avastin is a biologic antibody that is designed to interfere with the blood supply of tumors, thereby inhibiting their ability to grow and to metastasize. Genentech announced on November 14 that the FDA had approved the drug in combination with chemotherapy for the treatment of platinum-resistant, recurrent ovarian cancer.

“Avastin plus chemotherapy is the first new treatment option for women with this difficult-to-treat type of ovarian cancer in more than 15 years,” said Sandra Horning, chief medical officer and head of Global Product Development at Genentech. “Risk of the disease worsening was reduced by 62% for women who received Avastin plus chemotherapy in the study, and a notable treatment effect was observed with paclitaxel, which may be important when choosing treatment.”

The company-sponsored AURELIA trial shed light on the potential for Avastin to help women with difficult-to-treat ovarian cancer. The phase III, randomized, open-label study looked at 361 women who had not received more than two anticancer regimens prior to enrollment. The trial reached its primary endpoint, with average progression-free survival of 6.8 months.

In the U.S., Avastin is used to treat a wide variety of cancers, including colon, lung, kidney, cervical, and ovarian cancer.

Sources: BioSpace; February 25, 2014; and Reuters; February 24, 2014.


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