While drug manufacturers have come under fire for high medication prices—Mylan’s price hike on EpiPen is a recent example—a new multiple sclerosis drug may escape controversy.
The first drug for primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), ocrelizumab (Ocrevus ), manufactured by Genentech, was approved last week. While Genentech estimates that Ocrevus will cost $65,000 a year for patients without health insurance, a competing multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, EMD Serono’s interferon beta-1a (Rebif), indicated for relapsing forms of MS, costs around $86,000 a year. Ocrevus is also approved for relapsing MS.
“Pricing Ocrevus 25% less than the comparator in our trials is an important first step,” Genentech said in a statement. The drug will be available in the United States by mid-April.
PPMS is characterized by steadily worsening function from the onset of symptoms, often without early relapses or remissions. The CDC estimates that around 15% of patients with MS have PPMS.
Despite Ocrevus’s high price tag, an MS group praised the new medication.
Bruce Bebo, PhD, Executive Vice President of Research at the National MS Society, said, “We are grateful that there is finally a disease-modifying treatment for people with primary progressive MS, and also an important new option for people with relapsing MS. We hope this is just the first of many new treatments approved for people with progressive MS.”
The National MS Society “applauds Genentech for their leadership in setting the wholesale acquisition cost (or list price) of Ocrevus at $65,000 per,” the organization said in a statement. “The continually escalating prices of MS disease-modifying therapies are creating barriers to people with MS getting these life-changing medications.”
The National MS Society in encouraging other pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide drugs at reduced costs, “creating a drug pricing trend that keeps patients first”.
Genentech is also offering comprehensive services for patients who are prescribed Ocrevus “to help minimize barriers to access and reimbursement,” Genentech said in a statement. For those who qualify, Genentech plans to offer patient assistance programs.
The efficacy of Ocrevus for the treatment of relapsing forms of MS was shown in two clinical trials in 1,656 participants treated for 96 weeks. Both studies compared Ocrevus to Rebif. In both studies, the patients receiving Ocrevus had reduced relapse rates and reduced worsening of disability compared to Rebif.