After a Struggle, Provenge Gets FDA Approval, Now the Cost

May 4, 2010

Almost 3 years after a controversial FDA denial, Provenge was approved, making it the first autologous cellular immunotherapy for prostate cancer. One pressing question about Provenge is how much its maker, the biotech company, Dendreon, would charge for its newly approved drug.

Almost 3 years after a controversial FDA denial, Provenge was approved, making it the first autologous cellular immunotherapy for treating prostate cancer. One pressing question about Provenge is how much its maker, the biotech company, Dendreon, would charge for its newly approved drug.

In today’s financially stressed times, the push on the Hill is to find ways to ensure that we get better value for our precious healthcare dollars. Cancer care, with its array of expensive biologics comes under constant scrutiny. We knew that Provenge would be pricy, but until now the true cost of treatment was speculation.

Post-approval, Dendreon released these sticker-shock figures:  Each infusion of Provenge will cost $31,000, bringing the full cost of treatment for three infusions to $93,000. To put the dollars into perspective, the drug will cost about $23,000 per month of life extension, based on the phase III study that found the drug extended life by 4.1 months.

Governments implicitly place a dollar value on a human life when they decide how much is to be spent on health care programs. As a society, the question we need to ask is how much is a few more months of life worth?

Naturally, as a humane and just society, we are reluctant to place a dollar value on human life. But the economic realities of our finite healthcare resources will eventually make us do just that. It’s time to start the discussion.