Top teaching hospitals urge Congress to 'review' Genentech distribution change

Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech unit is facing more pushback over distribution-channel changes for its three best-selling cancer treatments. Leaders from top U.S. teaching hospitals and medical institutions are asking Congress for an "expedited review" of the Roche unit's decision.

Their justification, according to a letter addressed to Senate and House leaders? Genentech's switch, which took its top three cancer treatments to specialty distributors, will "adversely affect patient care, create an undue financial burden and lead to inefficient, labor intensive, and costly pharmacy processes," they wrote, highlighting operating impacts as large as $1 million for some centers.

The letter's signatories are also "puzzled" by the switch; they want to know why Genentech is trying to fix something that they say isn't broken. "We have found that the wholesaler model has reliably served" Genentech's stated goals while "minimizing costs to patients and providers," they wrote.

Announced to hospital customers in late September, the distribution change puts the three Roche blockbusters--Herceptin, Rituxan and Avastin--into a specialty channel, restricting the number of distribution centers to 5 from about 80, spokeswoman Charlotte Arnold recently told FiercePharma. The authorized distributors are specialty units of wholesalers the company had already used to distribute its products.

Genentech has said that the new model best serves both patient access and safety, as well as tight inventory control and tracking--an important factor in a potential supply squeeze. When the company launched its next-gen HER2 breast cancer drug Perjeta, supplies were tight, and specialty distribution helped Genentech manage inventory.

But the leaders whose signatures adorn the letter to Congress--including Mount Sinai Medical Center CEO Kenneth Davis and Paul Rothman, dean of the medical faculty at Johns Hopkins--aren't the first to express their discontent. Early last month, Ascension Health, a Roman Catholic-based group of more than 130 hospitals, issued a memo to employees to bar Genentech sales reps at the door.

"This action, combined with Genentech's choice to not contract for cost relief on any of their products, reduces the dollars needed to provide the breadth of care important to our communities," the memo stated (as quoted by Modern Healthcare).

- read the letter

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