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Hospitals protest Genentech's changes to distribution of top cancer drugs


On October 1, biotech firm Genentech began a major change in the distribution process for their 3 top cancer drugs: Avastin (bevacizumab), Herceptin (trastuzumab), and Rituxan (rituximab). Distribution of the drugs to hospitals and clinics now will be restricted to authorized specialty distributors.

Reaction by hospitals and pharmacy executives to this change has been swift because of perceived significantly increased costs as well as delays in therapy for patients. According to a letter from the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA) to Genentech CEO Ian Clark, this decision “will have a direct and negative impact on our cancer center operations and have adverse effects on patient care.”

HOPA points out that a major consequence will be the loss of wholesaler rebates, increasing the financial burden on care providers and ultimately on patients. It will also affect their delivery systems, meaning that delays in getting a drug to the clinic will be more likely. As the HOPA letter states, “Drugs ordered on one day will not arrive in time for early appointments the next day.”

Genentech sees this issue very differently. The company “is committed to patient safety, to protecting the integrity of our medicines as they move through the supply chain,” said Charlotte Arnold, the associate director of corporate relations for Genentech. She added that the company is also committed “to ensuring patients and healthcare professionals are able to access our medicines when they need them.”

Another objection voiced by HOPA was the increased costs in packaging that will result from the products being shipped by courier, necessitating more complexly packed items. Such packaging will impact facilities with limited space, as well as waste management for all facilities in regard to disposal of the packaging materials. Genentech, however, cites that these cancer medicines “require special storage and handling.”

The change in the distribution process for the 3 drugs began on October 1, 2014.

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