Sanofi has responded to protests against the withdrawal of its drug Campath by restoring access for a limited number of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Campath (alemtuzumab) is approved for treatment of leukaemia but is prescribed off-label for treatment of MS.
To offset the effects of its withdrawal from the market, prior to a rebranding, Sanofi has agreed to make 201 vials available for MS patients in the UK.
In September 2012, Sanofi’s subsidiary Genzyme withdrew Campath to allow a new version, Lemtrada, to be licensed for treatment of MS in the UK.
This meant both that the drug’s price would increase by a factor of 15–20 and that a gap would be created in its availability.
There was widespread protest from doctors, including a letter to the Health Secretary from three specialists warning that patients could miss the window of ‘therapeutic opportunity’, with serious medical consequences.
One of the letter’s authors, Professor John Zajicek, commented that Sanofi’s approach was “morally corrupt”.
Genzyme has agreed to supply a further 201 vials of the drug for the patients of six specialists who were using it as a treatment for MS – however, it will not be available for new patients.
Professor Zajicek said the company’s response was “disappointing”, with Genzyme setting conditions that “don’t make sense”.
The decision to rebrand Campath was based on clinical trials that showed it to be more effective against MS than the current treatment, interferon beta-1a.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge said the drug had a “transformative” effect, and could be given to two-thirds of patients newly diagnosed with MS.
Genzyme stated that gaining regulatory approval for alemtuzumab as a treatment for MS was the best way to ensure patient access.
However, critics have predicted that its price as a licensed drug in this indication will be 15–20 times as high as its current price (which follows patent expiry).