Swiss health authorities have used some old-fashioned arm-twisting to persuade Novartis ($NVS) to cut its price on the Lucentis eye drug by upwards of 30%. The sole approved treatment for age-related macular degeneration, Lucentis has been facing competition from its cousin Avastin, a cancer drug that is often used off-label to treat the eye disease. But the pricing premium has stayed constant.
Armed with media reports about off-label Avastin treatment and data from a recent U.S. study, Health Minister Didier Burkhalter at first put some pressure on Roche to seek approval of Avastin for AMD, Le Matin reports. But Roche makes both drugs, and Novartis' marketing deal for Lucentis wouldn't allow it. So, Burkhalter sought his second choice: a price cut.
A ministry spokesman tells Le Matin Burkhalter directed his people to study both alternatives: a forced approval for Avastin in AMD, and a price cut for Lucentis. "We have been successful on this last point with a drop of 30%," spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier said. If nationwide sales of the drug exceed 108 million francs, then the price will have to drop again, he added.
The price cut is expected to have a ripple effect because other countries use Swiss costs in their own reference-pricing systems, Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile, recent reports of serious eye infections in AMD patients treated with Avastin have physicians disenchanted about the off-label use, as the New York Times notes. At least three clusters of infections have been reported, and several people have lost sight in their treated eyes.