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Medicare Will Pay for Prostate Cancer Drug
Date:7/1/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- The cost of Provenge, an expensive and newly approved therapeutic prostate cancer vaccine, will be covered by Medicare for men with metastatic prostate cancer, the agency announced late Thursday.

The vaccine, made by the Dendreon Corp., costs $93,000 per patient and extends survival by about four months on average, according to results from clinical trials. A panel of experts convened by Medicare gave the nod for coverage last November, but the agency has only now announced it would cover the treatment.

"We are optimistic that innovative strategies may improve the experience of care for our beneficiaries who have cancer," Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said in an agency news release. "CMS is dedicated to assuring that these patients can seek the treatments they need in accordance with their wishes."

Research does suggest that the vaccine can extend the lives of men with cancer that has spread beyond the prostate. One study, published in July 2010 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the vaccine extended the lives of men with metastatic tumors resistant to standard hormonal treatment, compared with no treatment. And the therapy involved less toxicity than chemotherapy.

Provenge is a therapeutic (not preventive) vaccine made from the patient's own white blood cells. Once removed from the patient, the cells are treated with the drug and placed back into the patient. These treated cells then trigger an immune response that in turn kills cancer cells, leaving normal cells unharmed. The vaccine is given intravenously in a three-dose schedule delivered in two-week intervals.

"The strategy of trying to harness the immune system to fight cancer has been something that people have tried to attain for many years; this is one such strategy," study lead
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