Dendreon ( DNDN) shares fell Wednesday after a column in the New York Times suggested that cuts to expensive prostate cancer treatments must be made if the U.S. is to reform its bloated and expensive health care system. However, the column by New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt focused on men with early-stage prostate cancer. Doctors will use Dendreon's Provenge to treat men with advanced prostate cancer. Current treatment options for these men offer little hope for long-term survival. Nonetheless, Dendreon fell more than 5% to $22.66 Wednesday. The stock fell as much as 8% intraday. It just so happens that Dendreon CEO Mitch Gold was available to comment on Leonhardt's column. During a conference call Wednesday afternoon with investors sponsored by Citibank analyst Lucy Lu, Gold was asked if he thought Provenge was at risk from the current health care reform plans wending their way through Congress. "Late-stage prostate cancer is a completely different animal. ... The most important outcome for patients and payors is to improve survival in this patient population," said Gold. The only approved treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer today is Taxotere, which improves survival by about two-and-half months but at significant cost and toxicity, said Gold. A course of Taxotere costs about $25,000 a year, but the actual cost of treatment, including other drugs required to alleviate the side effects of the toxic chemotherapy, is in the range of $50,000 to $80,000. By comparison, he added, Provenge extends survival by more than four months and patients can complete an entire course of treatment in one month with few side effects and little need for expensive supportive care treatments.
"The value to the patients and the payors is extremely high for Provenge," said Gold. The debate over whether men with early-stage prostate cancer benefit more from immediate treatment or so-called "watchful waiting" is legitimate question, said Gold, but "when prostate cancer advances, men should be treated. There is no question about that." Outside of the question concerning Provenge and health care reform, Gold's intervew with the Citibank analyst offered nothing new about Dendreon. Gold essentially reiterated what most investors who follow the company already know: The Provenge filing with the Food and Drug Administration is still on track for the fourth quarter, and the company is prepared to launch Provenge from its New Jersey manufacturing facility. That facility is currently being expanded to increase capacity from 25% to 100%, but that work is not a gating factor on Provenge's approval or the drug's launch. The work on the New Jersey facility will be completed by the end of April 2010. Gold did say Dendreon will hold an investor/analyst day in September to discuss Provenge's commercialization plans in more detail, and to discuss other research projects under way at the company.