GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) has discontinued the lifesaving cancer treatment Bexxar because it was not earning the company enough money.
Bexxar is an effective and safe FDA-approved therapy for lymphoma, the nation's seventh most common cancer for men and women, reports International Business Times. It is approved for the treatment of certain types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, including the most common type, follicular.
Bexxar has been proven to give patients longer periods of remission than any other treatment, including the standard chemotherapy plus monoclonal antibody drug Rituxan. It even has fewer harsh side effects.
Remissions of 10 years, 14 years, and counting have been reported for patients treated with Bexxar for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Many patients were told they had an incurable form of cancer, until they tried Bexxar, reports the Examiner.
“As a corporate CEO, I understand that GSK might kill a drug that loses money, but what I don’t understand is why they seemed to not be willing to make the modest investments required to make this lifesaving treatment a success,” said Michael Werner, a lymphoma survivor who sits on the board of directors for the Lymphoma Research Foundation, the nation’s largest nonprofit dedicated to funding lymphoma research.
Werner believes GSK, the fourth largest pharmaceutical company in the world, with 2013 third-quarter revenues of $10.1 billion, had all the tools available to make Bexxar successful.
“It seems like maybe they lacked the will,” he said. “What a shame that thousands of patients will now be denied a treatment that might have saved their lives. It shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be this way.”
But Bexxar, touted as a wonder drug in 1998 by NBC's Dateline, never caught on with oncologists and hematologists, who prefer prescribing traditional chemotherapy plus Rituxan, which can be given in a doctor's office.
Bexxar has a radiation component, and must be administered by a doctor who is licensed in nuclear medicine or radiation oncology.
Discontinuing Bexxar is an extreme example of eliminating a lifesaver drug because of its low profitability. GSK would not release how much money it spent on marketing Bexxar, or whether attempts were made to sell the drug to another company so it would remain available in the marketplace.
In a statement, GSK said it “invested substantially in Bexxar throughout its lifecycle,” and that the company’s “commitment to patients with cancer and the oncology community will continue through our efforts to develop and deliver other cancer therapies aimed at strengthening standards of care and addressing unmet needs.”
Its continued efforts do not change the fact that it is removing an effective and safe cancer treatment from the marketplace due to financial concerns.