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Each regimen of Provenge must be tailored to the immune system of the patient using a time-consuming formulation process. Doctors collect special blood cells from each patient that help the immune system recognize cancer as a threat. The cells are mixed with a protein found on most prostate cancer cells and another substance to rev up the immune system, and then given back to the patient as three infusions two weeks apart.
Industry observers say much of the scrutiny of Provenge stems from the current political climate, as voters push lawmakers to cut the deficit and rein in government spending. At the same time, the new health care reform law has stoked debate about how much say the government should have in approving coverage of medical treatments. Republicans have accused the acting chief of Medicare, Dr. Donald Berwick, of advocating health care rationing, based on statements he made as a professor at Harvard University. President Obama appointed Berwick to the post last year, but Senate Republicans have opposed his confirmation and have urged Obama to nominate someone else.
Dr. Sean Tunis, a former Medicare official, called Wednesday's decision a case of "the dog that didn't bark."
"You could almost guess that this would be outcome before they even started. So why raise all the anxiety and subject yourself to all the criticism of rationing?" said Tunis, who is director of the Center for Medical Technology Policy in Baltimore.
Medicare officials have said the agency's review of Provenge was aimed at clearing up bureaucratic confusion among Medicare carriers across the country, some of whom already pay for Provenge. Medicare on Wednesday called its online memo a "proposed decision," but it essentially amounts to agreeing to cover the drug for millions of seniors enrolled in its program.
The news sent Dendreon shares up 66 cents to $36.20 in after-hours trading. The stock closed the regular session down 34 cents at $35.54 before the announcement.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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