Senator continues inquiry into Avastin question

WASHINGTON Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl, D-Wis., is continuing his investigation into Genentech’s decision to limit the availability of its cancer drug Avastin.

The drug is used for the treatment of colorectal cancer. The company is restricting the availability of the drug so that doctors will have to use their—more expensive—medication, Lucentis. The drugs are chemically similar and since the price difference is so great, doctors have been using the cheaper Avastin.

Kohl said in letters to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Food and Drug Administration that Genentech’s decision to limit access to the medicine by pharmacies that repackage drugs “is of great concern.”

Now, Kohl is asking Genentech for documentation related to the company’s discussions with sponsors of a forthcoming study comparing Lucentis and Avastin. He is also looking for information about letters the company sent to patients warning them about using off-label Avastin and explaining its possible side effects.

Kohl also wrote to the Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach asking for the agency’s official position on Avastin’s availability. This is in response to Genentech employees saying the FDA was opposed to compounding pharmacies being provided with the drug and the subsequent knowledge that the FDA had not, in fact, stated that the drug should be limited to those pharmacies.

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