Company’s prices out of line

It has been said that you can’t put a price on life. But apparently, drug maker Genentech can.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the drug Avastin, which is produced by Genentech and is already being used in the treatment of colon cancer, could extend the lives of hundreds of thousands of people when used to treat other cancers – but at a hefty price.

According to the report, the drug would cost patients about $100,000 a year; not because of the drug’s cost of production, but, as a company executive said, because of the inherent value of sustaining life.

In other words, Genentech is saying to cancer patients: “You don’t want to die, do you? Well, good. Give us your money.” It looks like Genetech’s executives have found a way to use lung or breast cancer as a weapon in committing armed robbery.

Of course, Genentech is a business. They have the right to seek profit. But as the Times reported, sales of Avastin are expected to soar to more than $7 billion by 2009, up from $1.1 billion last year, which will cause a tripling in Genentech’s profits from $1 billion to $4 billion.

William M. Burns, a Genentech board member, told the Times the company has no reason to change the price of Avastin given current health economics, and that when it comes to cancer therapy, “The pressure on society to use strong and good products is there.”

Genentech obviously recognizes society’s need to take care of the dying, and the company is exploiting it.

The Times reported that other companies may follow Genentech’s lead and begin offering their lifesaving medications at inflated prices that may be difficult for even those with insurance to afford. Imagine facing death knowing that if you had only made a few more dollars in life, you would be able to buy a few more years.

Life is filled with battles between the haves and the have-nots, but now, thanks to companies like Genetech, even the ability to live may only be available to the haves.

News editor Mike Dwyer for the editorial board