A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee said that cancer patients' use of popular anemia drugs made by Amgen Inc. and Johnson & Johnson should be limited further, and the companies should be required to complete studies to answer lingering safety questions.Click here to read the WSJ article (subscription required).
The votes were a blow to the class of medications that the FDA calls erythropoiesis-stimulating agents, sometimes known as ESAs or EPO drugs, which are sold as Epogen and Aranesp by Amgen and Procrit by J&J. The medications are prescribed for anemia, which is a deficiency of red blood cells that can occur as a side effect of cancer chemotherapy and kidney disease.
Earlier in the week, the New York Times published an article on rebates to oncologists on these anemia drugs:
Two of the world’s largest drug companies are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to doctors every year in return for giving their patients anemia medicines, which regulators now say may be unsafe at commonly used doses.Click here to read the NYT article.
The payments are legal, but very few people outside of the doctors who receive them are aware of their size. Critics, including prominent cancer and kidney doctors, say the payments give physicians an incentive to prescribe the medicines at levels that might increase patients’ risks of heart attacks or strokes.
Federal laws bar drug companies from paying doctors to prescribe medicines that are given in pill form and purchased by patients from pharmacies. But companies can rebate part of the price that doctors pay for drugs, like the anemia medicines, which they dispense in their offices as part of treatment.