As a reminder, my variety of cancer is called Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. The abbreviation is CML. As a result of blogging about CML, along with its physical, spiritual, and emotional components, there are quite a few CML patients who follow my blog. As a result of that, a health advocacy group, on behalf of Novartis Pharmaceutical Company, contacted me to be one of the bloggers to participate in a CML summit. In the course of our phone and email communications I asked, “Why have you selected me?” Among the reasons I was given was, “One of the goals of this summit is to gather an understanding of the information gaps and best ways to communicate within the CML community. I thought you would be able to provide great feedback and information to the Novartis/Tasigna team about your CML journey.”
The summit is next month in New York. They pay all travel and hotel expenses plus a generous honorarium. After some research, I agreed to go. Why the research? Well, there’s the simple fact that a pharmaceutical company is paying all this money in expenses to 15 of us as far away as California. Is their motivation purely to improve CML communication? Or, is there a message or product they want us to communicate about?
Well, the full sponsor name of the summit is Novartis/Tasigna. Novartis is a pharmaceutical company who is also the maker of the main CML chemo drug, Gleevec. Tasigna is a fairly new front-line CML chemo drug, also manufactured by Novartis. I mentioned in Wednesday blog post that the patent for Gleevec expires in 2015 (Novartis has filed for a patent extension). The patent for the new Tasigna doesn't expire until July of 2023. Internet searches indicate that Novartis is trying to move Gleevec patients to Tasigna.
It is projected that if the Gleevec patent is allowed to expire next year that prescriptions may go from $7,600 per month to as low as $50.00 per month. Remember, CML patients take the chemo each and every day for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, Tasigna will still be commanding the Gleevec-type high prices. Indeed, it makes financial sense for Novartis to try to move all the Gleevec patients to Tasigna. What better way to spread the word than to sell CML bloggers on the benefits of Tasigna? Would it really help sell Tasigna to have us sing the praises of Tasigna to CML patients? Would patients be able to influence their doctors to switch them to Tasigna? Evidently, yes. Look at the pharmacy ads on TV urging patients to ask their doctor if a certain drug "is right for you." If this backdoor advocacy to the doctor wasn't effective, I doubt so many TV ads today would be by pharmaceutical companies advocating patients to talk to their doctor about using certain drugs.
Yet, on the other hand… last month three independent studies revealed that Tasigna is proving to be even more effective than Gleevec. Further, the studies show that remissions facilitated by Tasigna are much more stable and “deeper” than that of Gleevec. Dr. Tan mentioned the possibility of me being switched to Tasigna quite some time ago, if my tests didn’t settle down.