Genzyme mulls Campath giveaway for cancer patients

One of the big sticking points in the potential Sanofi-Aventis/Genzyme deal has been sales estimates for Campath, the company's leukemia drug that it's developing for multiple sclerosis. Genzyme has pegged peak sales at $3 billion, while Sanofi says it's more like $700 million. And that number is a key element in valuing Genzyme, buyout-wise.

But here's a wrinkle that neither CEO has mentioned: Price. Campath now sells for $30,000 for leukemia treatment. But MS patients need only a fraction of the dose used in cancer patients. At the current price, MS patients could get Campath for $7,000 or so. That's far less than other MS treatments; just consider Novartis' new drug Gilenya, priced at $48,000 a year.

So, Genzyme has a dilemma. To get market prices for Campath use in MS, it would have to price the drug differently for each use. But what would stop doctors from using cancer-priced vials rather than MS vials? After all, off-label use is perfectly legal. Eye doctors have used the cancer drug Avastin off-label as a macular degeneration treatment at a tiny fraction of the cost of Roche's approved eye drug Lucentis. 

So, as Dow Jones reports, the company is weighing a different plan: Pulling Campath off the cancer market altogether. That would allow Genzyme to sell the drug for MS at an MS-market price. And, to avoid denying cancer patients the treatment--and the resulting PR nightmare--the company would give the drug away for free under the "compassionate use" umbrella.

- read the Dow Jones story
- get more from the Wall Street Journal Health Blog
- see BNet Pharma's take