Friday, December 23, 2011
December 23, 2011– Mademoiselle Zevalin’s Empty Dance Card
article, here, about the difficulties ibritumomab tiuxetan (Zevalin) has been having, getting accepted as an effective treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
So, at the Oncologists’ Ball, why is Zevalin – which is actually a pretty hot little number – treated like such a wallflower? Dr. John Pagel, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, thinks he understands the reason:
“Unfortunately, oncologists still have to refer the patient to a radiation oncologist or nuclear medicine physician for administration of the drug, which can be a barrier for treatment in some cases.”
Gee, d’ya think?
For most oncologists to prescribe Zevalin for their patients, they have to give up the privilege of dispensing treatment themselves. Since many oncologists – who have invested big bucks in elaborate chemo suites, where they dispense medicines costing tens of thousands of dollars – earn their money not just from the medical wisdom they dole out, but also from the meds, telling a patient “I think Zevalin could help you” means foregoing the income from several months of costly chemo treatments.
Is it any wonder so many oncologists stick to the classic approaches, which just so happen to use the treatment agents they’re licensed to dispense?
Zevalin, along with Bexxar (the other leading drug of this type), is the highly-effective Rituximab bonded with radioactive particles. The CD-20 targeting agent in Rituximab seeks out and travels to the malignant cells – unleashing Rituximab’s own cancer-fighting properties – but then the radiation zaps ‘em again. It’s a potent one-two punch.
How do you suppose radioimmunotherapy studies of drugs like Zevalin are received at professional conferences, when very few of the members of the professional association are licensed to dispense the drug? (Doctors who administer radioimmunotherapy have to be double-qualified, both in oncology and in either radiology or nuclear medicine.) These docs-on-holiday hear reports of the science behind these treatments, and they can’t really argue with it, but it can’t fail to enter their minds that, in order to prescribe these drugs, they’ll have to let some other doctor’s practice collect the revenue.
I’m not charging oncologists with running some kind of cartel or cover-up. It's just that I'm enough of a Calvinist to point out that they’re only human, and therefore such a thought can’t fail to enter their minds.
Again, it’s the basic structure of our healthcare system that’s the real root of the problem. Force doctors to function as small-business entrepreneurs who are paid according to treatments dispensed rather than according to clinical outcomes, and a proven drug like Zevalin gets pushed to the back burner.
It would be interesting for someone to study which sorts of oncologists are referring patients for radioimmunotherapy more often – those who own their own practices, or those who work for organizations like the Mayo Clinic, where they’re all on salary.
Are there any investigative journalists reading this, looking for a scoop? Just crunch those numbers. I’ll bet you’ll see a correlation.