Doctors support Amgen and J&J;
The largest group of U.S. cancer doctors said Monday that Medicare has gone too far in restricting the use of anemia drugs made by Amgen Inc. and Johnson & Johnson and released its own guidelines.
The doctors’ recommendations add new warnings about heart risks while saying patients can safely use higher doses than Medicare allows. The guidelines, based on a three-year review of clinical trials, are being published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, an association of cancer doctors, and the American Society of Hematology, a group of blood experts.
The physicians say the scientific review will strengthen their case that Medicare, the U.S. health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, should back away from tough new rules against paying for the medicines at higher doses than were previously acceptable. The drugs generated $6.6 billion in sales for Amgen last year.
“There is no evidence from clinical trials for [Medicare’s] proposal,” said Joseph Bailes, chairman of the government relations committee of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Shares of Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company, fell 14 cents to $55.81. Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest maker of healthcare products, fell 11 cents to $64.12.
Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, and Johnson & Johnson, of New Brunswick, N.J., have joined forces with the cancer physicians, urging Medicare to overturn its rules.
Doctors “should be free to make individual treatment decisions based on their clinical judgment informed by evidence- based guidelines,” said Amgen spokeswoman Ashleigh Koss.
Medicare is facing political pressure to change its position. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Friday he planned to introduce a resolution to nullify Medicare’s new policy on anemia drugs. The decision “will prevent vulnerable cancer patients from getting the care they need,” Baucus said.
The anemia drugs are approved to treat patients whose weakness and fatigue is caused by chronic kidney disease or cancer chemotherapy. The medicines stimulate the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which may boost patients’ energy and strength. They are marketed as Amgen’s Epogen and Aranesp and J&J;'s Procrit.