Health Inc.

Debate About Value Of Provenge Boils Over On Medicare Site

There's nothing quite like a $93,000 price tag on a mysterious prostate cancer treatment to get people talking.

Just take a look at the public comments collected about Provenge by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over the past month. The analysts there are trying to figure out whether to cover Provenge, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in April, for Medicare recipients nationwide. A decision could take a year.

Advocates for Provenge and the stock of its maker, biotech firm Dendreon, have been a pretty zealous lot on the Web, shouting down critics and even those who raise a few questions.

But even we, who've endured our share of Internet slings and arrows, were surprised to see the preemptive anonymity of a commenter to CMS raising questions about potential side effects and the studies FDA relied upon to approve the treatment.

A law firm filed the comments for unidentified "investment advisors" concerned about being flamed. Or, as they put it, "Because of the public vilification of anyone that questions Provenge (one need look no further than this NCA comment site), these letters will be anonymous."

We'll leave it for the folks at CMS to decide what weight, if any, to give to their critique.

But in plain view last week, an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine also asked a few questions about the design of a study, whose results were reported in the same issue.

It's clear that even the experts are scratching their heads over how Provenge adds 4 months to the lives of men with prostate cancer that doesn't respond to hormone-blocking drugs — without shrinking their tumors.

TheStreet.com's Adam Feuerstein was the guy who brought this latest Provenge tempest to our attention. In a tweet, he asked, if the CMS comments will "sink as low as a common stock message board?" Judge for yourself.

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