Medicare will cover life-saving cancer therapy invented at U-M
By Kara Gavin
A cancer therapy originally invented at the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) now will be available to Medicare patients under a ruling announced Sept. 11 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The announcement marks the final leg in the journey of the treatment called Bexxar, from the concept and laboratory stage to widespread clinical use as a targeted weapon against a deadly cancer called non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL). NHL, which affects the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic tissues, is the nation's sixth-leading cause of cancer death.
Bexxar was approved June 30 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use against cases of NHL that are resistant to other treatments. But last week's issuing of coding instructions by CMS means that hospitals can receive payment from Medicare for treating patients with Bexxar. A CMS coding instruction usually paves the way for other insurers to cover a treatment's costs for their members.
"It's incredibly gratifying to see Bexxar make it this far, and be available to patients who need new options to survive," says co-inventor Dr. Mark Kaminski, co-director of the Leukemia/Lymphoma/Bone Marrow Transplant Program at CCC. "This caps an effort that began years ago with basic research, and it has reached this point through dedication and tireless effort by
all involvedincluding the many patients who took part in years of clinical trials."
Kaminski developed Bexxar with U-M nuclear medicine pioneer Dr. Richard Wahl, now chair of nuclear medicine at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. Further development was conducted in collaboration with scientists at Coulter Corporation, which subsequently was acquired by Corixa Corp. in December 2000. Bexxar will be co-marketed in the United States by Corixa and GlaxoSmithKline.
Kaminski says he expects to begin treating patients with Bexxar within days, though he still is interested in conducting clinical trials to further evaluate the potential of this therapy for various forms of NHL.
The CMS codes are retroactive to July 1, 2003, and include reimbursement for all the procedures necessary to administer Bexxar, including scans and calculations related to the drug's cancer-killing radioactive component.
Bexxar is given as a single, short course of treatment over a period of one to two weeks. In contrast, NHL patients' standard chemotherapy regimens often are repeated over six to eight months, and each cycle of treatment may last as long as three to four weeks with a recovery period in between each course. NHL has the second fastest-growing incidence rate of all cancers.
For more on cancer treatment and studies at UMHS, call (800) 865-1125. For more information on Bexxar from its manufacturer, visit http://www.bexxar.com or call (877) 4BEXXAR.