Medicare officials said Wednesday that the program will pay the $93,000 cost of prostate cancer drug Provenge, an innovative therapy that typically gives men suffering from an incurable stage of the disease an extra four months to live.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid said the biotech drug made by Dendreon Corp. is a "reasonable and necessary" medicine. The decision ensures that millions of men would be able to afford the drug through the government-backed health care coverage. With government reimbursement, analysts estimate Provenge could rack up $1 billion in sales next year. The decision, which will be finalized by June 30, is important for Dendreon because most prostate cancer patients are 65 or older.
Medicare is legally prohibited from considering price when deciding whether to pay for a new treatment. The Food and Drug Administration approved Provenge last April and in most cases Medicare automatically covers drugs cleared by the agency. But Medicare's decision to review Provenge last year prompted outrage from some patients and doctors who said the government was looking for a reason to avoid reimbursing for the pricey drug.
The infused drug is a first-of-a-kind treatment in that each dose is customized to work with a patient's immune system. Seattle-based Dendreon says Provenge's price reflects the more than $1 billion spent researching and developing the drug. And prostate cancer patients point out that the median survival time with Provenge is double that of chemotherapy, which is about two months and is marked by significant side effects.