Lower-than-expected sales of a new heart-failure drug approved only for use by Black patients should not signal doom for racially tailored drugs, says a medical expert. Despite low sales affecting stock market shares of the drug’s maker, NitroMed Inc., racially tailored drugs might be here to stay.
The launch of the 10-month-old drug BiDil has been closely watched because it is expected to help usher in an era of “personalized” medicine, in which treatments are increasingly tailored to individuals’ genetic make-ups. Studied extensively at the University of Minnesota, BiDil is a combination of two drugs that boost the amount of nitric oxide in the blood, a substance that is found in lower levels in Blacks and which has several roles in heart health.
“There are genetic differences between individuals, and how we metabolize substances and drugs to suit our bodies is theoretically a good thing,” says Dr. Kenneth Edelin, associate dean of students and minority affairs at Boston University’s School of Medicine. “Asian doctors who treated Asian patients noticed these differences and subsequently tailored prescription to meet their needs.”
Despite BiDil’s lackluster early performance, Edelin says the increased use of personalized medicine is here to stay because of how one group of people reacts to a drug in relation to another group. “The truth is we are different … and drugs can be individually tailored due to a specific problem based on genetic instructions.”
The stumbling block for racially tailored drugs is cost.
Analysts and NitroMed officials agree the main problem is difficulty persuading pharmacy benefit plans to approve low patient co-payments. They hope to provide co-pays for about $20 a month, rather than the current $50 a month most plans charge. NitroMed posted a loss of $25.9 million, or 75 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2006 compared to $19.6 million, or 65 cents per share, a year ago.
To turn sales around, NitroMed is focusing on increasing insurance reimbursement. NitroMed’s sales force is making targeted pitches at Black health fairs and church gatherings in 144 U.S. metropolitan areas that have large Black populations.
NitroMed officials say they have made progress in persuading government pharmacy benefit managers to raise reimbursement for the drug and reduce patient co-payments. California, Florida and Michigan have become the first three states to grant preferred status for BiDil on their Medicaid plans.
— Diverse and news wire reports
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