Pfizer Offers Refund if Drug 'Doesn't Work'

Roxanne Nelson, RN, BSN

October 20, 2021

The high cost of new cancer drugs has been the subject of many debates and discussions, but the issue remains largely unresolved.

Now, one pharmaceutical company is offering a refund if its drug "doesn't work."

For what it says is the first time in the industry, Pfizer has issued a warranty on crizotinib (Xalkori) and will refund the cost that was paid for the medicine if it doesn't work within the first 3 months of use.

"Through this pilot program, Pfizer will offer a warranty to patients and health plans ― Medicare Part D, commercial and those who pay cash ― who are prescribed Xalkori for an FDA [US Food and Drug Administration]–approved indication," said a company spokesperson.

Although Pfizer claims that its pilot program is a first in the industry, there have been others that are similar.

In 2017, Novartis offered something similar for tisagenlecleucel (Kymriah), the CAR T-cell therapy that launched with a daunting price tag of $475,000. After receiving backlash over the cost, Novartis announced that if the drug does not work after the first month, patients pay nothing.

Italy has been using this system for several years. Pharmaceutical companies must refund money if the drug fails to work. In 2015, the state-run healthcare system collected €200 million ($220 million) in refunds.

Pfizer Pledge

Crizotinib is a selective tyrosine kinase inhibitor used mainly in the treatment of metastatic non–small cell lung cancer for patients whose tumors are positive for ALK or ROS1, as detected by an FDA-approved test. This indication was approved a decade ago. Another indication, ALK-positive anaplastic large cell lymphoma, was added earlier this year.

Details of the Pfizer Pledge are posted on Pfizer's website. Eligible patients are those for whom crizotinib is discontinued before the fourth 30-day supply is dispensed by the patient's pharmacy.

"The warranty will reimburse an amount equal to the cost paid for the medicine," the spokesperson added. "The insurance-backed warranty pilot program will be insured and managed by AIG."

This program is only available for patients who reside in the United States.

If use of crizotinib is discontinued and documentation of ineffectiveness is provided, Pfizer will refund the out-of-pocket amount that was paid for up to the first three bottles (30-day supply) of ctizotinib, up to a maximum of $19,144 for each month's supply, or a total of $57,432. Pfizer will also refund the cost that was paid by Medicare or a commercial insurer.

"Also, we have made sure to develop a program that also allows for Medicare patients to be eligible, since they are exempt from copay cards and at risk for significant financial burden when starting an oncology treatment," said the spokesperson.

The pilot program is available to patients who began taking crizotinib from June 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021.

So far, Pfizer is offering this warranty only for crizotinib, but that may change in the future.

"Once the pilot is complete, we will assess learnings and consider whether to build a more robust, scalable program capable of supporting multiple products," the Pfizer spokesperson commented.

Previous Scheme Ended in Court

Pfizer had previously tried a different approach to reducing drug costs: it had attempted to offer copay support programs to Medicare patients who were prescribed its cardiac drug tafamidis (Vyndaqe, Vyndamax).

Tafamidis, launched in 2019, is used for patients with transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy. For those patients, it has been shown to reduce all-cause mortality and cardiovascular hospitalizations. It costs about $225,000 a year and has been described as the most expensive cardiovascular drug in the United States.

Earlier this month, a court dismissed Pfizer's challenge to an anti-kickback law that prevented the company from offering copay support programs to Medicare patients.

The judge ruled that Pfizer's plan to offer direct payments to patients violated a federal ban on "knowingly or willfully" providing financial support to induce drug purchases, even in the absence of corrupt intent.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers are forbidden from subsidizing copayments for Medicare beneficiaries but are allowed to donate to independent nonprofit organizations that offer copay assistance. Pfizer sued the US Department of Health and Human Services in June 2020 to get a court ruling that their proposed programs were legal.

The new pledge program for crizotinib operates from a different premise, the Pfizer spokesperson commented.

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