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Sipuleucel-T (Provenge®)—Autopsy of an Innovative Paradigm Change in Cancer Treatment: Why a Single-Product Biotech Company Failed to Capitalize on its Breakthrough Invention

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Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010, sipuleucel-T (Provenge®) was the first ‘personalized’ cancer vaccine for the treatment of prostate cancer in a metastatic, non-symptomatic population of 30,000 men in the USA. Sipuleucel-T is prepared individually for each patient and infused in three sessions over a period of 1 month. However, in 2015, Dendreon, the owner of sipuleucel-T, filed for bankruptcy. This opinion paper reviews the probable reasons this innovative product failed to achieve commercial success. PubMed and internet searches were performed focused on pricing, reimbursement, and market access. We found that sipuleucel-T’s FDA approval was delayed by 3 years, reportedly because of the vaccine’s new mechanism of action. Sipuleucel-T was cleared by the European Medicines Agency 2 years later, but other national agencies were not approached. It was priced at $US93,000 for a course of treatment, and this high price combined with the company’s late securement of reimbursement for the vaccine by the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) resulted in another year’s delay in accessing the market. Despite a positive recommendation by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, sipuleucel-T’s complex administration, high price, and uncertainty about the reimbursement status deterred doctors from prescribing the product. Furthermore, the vaccine’s supply was limited during the first year of launch due to limited manufacturing capacity. In addition, two oral metastatic prostate cancer drugs with similar survival benefits reached the US market 1 and 2 years after sipuleucel-T. Also, even though Dendreon’s market capitalization topped $US7.5 billion following the FDA’s approval of sipuleucel-T, this value degraded gradually until the firm’s bankruptcy 5 years later. We conclude that the bankruptcy of Dendreon was largely due to the delay in securing FDA approval and CMS coverage, as well as the high cost that had to be incurred by providers up-front. Licensing sipuleucel-T to a pharmaceutical company more experienced in the market access pathway may have saved the company and the product.

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Correspondence to Mondher Toumi.

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Creativ-Ceutical is a lifescience consulting firm servicing health authorities, including international agencies and private device and pharmaceutical companies. Mondher Toumi is a part time consultant to CC and full Professor of Public Health at Aix Marseille University.

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Jarosławski, S., Toumi, M. Sipuleucel-T (Provenge®)—Autopsy of an Innovative Paradigm Change in Cancer Treatment: Why a Single-Product Biotech Company Failed to Capitalize on its Breakthrough Invention. BioDrugs 29, 301–307 (2015).

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