Critics pillory Sanofi for pulling cheap Campath

Sanofi's critics have launched a new offensive. After months of protesting yielded big reductions in the French drugmaker's layoff plans in its home country, those less-than-pleased with Sanofi ($SNY) are zeroing in on its decision to swap cheap Campath for the (presumably) much pricier, soon-to-be-approved multiple sclerosis drug Lemtrada.

Lemtrada was one of the allures when Sanofi decided to buy the U.S.-based Genzyme. A repurposed version of Campath--approved for years to treat leukemia--Lemtrada is in line for approval in the U.S. and Europe next year. Campath has been selling for a respectable $60,000 per year, but for MS treatment, much smaller doses are used. How could Sanofi expect to charge a premium price for Lemtrada when Campath could be used off-label much more cheaply?

In August, Sanofi said it would pull Campath from the market. It would remain available to leukemia patients through access programs in 50 countries, often for free. The withdrawal was expected to be effective in the U.S. last month. So, the field is clear for a higher price on Lemtrada, when and if it wins regulatory approval.

Now, Sanofi's French detractors are pointing to the Campath move as further evidence of money-grubbing. The Campath withdrawal was "dictated only by the logic of profit," the French business publication Challenges contended in a Sanofi critique.

Some U.K. doctors have taken their disapproval to a higher level, by writing to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to protest Sanofi's cutting off Campath supplies. The drug is currently used off-label in MS patients, who now may not be able to get their next courses of treatment, the neurologists wrote, putting them at risk of "progressive, severe disability."

"It shows little regard for patients whose opportunity to alter the course of their disease is time-limited, and may represent an over-enthusiastic attempt by the parent company to profit from the current situation," the letter states (as quoted by The Independent). And Lemtrada is expected to launch at prices 15 to 20 times higher than Campath's cost, the doctors said.

In The Independent, Genzyme said its goal is to get Lemtrada to market ASAP, and that using the drug for MS shouldn't be happening outside clinical trials. "In the U.K., our price for Lemtrada and the value it brings to patients will be subject to the usual health economic valuation by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence." We'll have to wait and see what the notoriously price-sensitive agency has to say.

- read the Independent piece
- read the Challenges piece (in French)