EAST HANOVER, N.J., DEC. 6 -- The maker of an expensive drug used to treat schizophrenia says it has agreed to study new ways of monitoring its use that could cut costs and make it available to more people.
The drug, clozapine, costs $8,944 in the United States for a year's supply. A large share of that cost is believed to come from a monitoring system overseen by the manufacturer to guard against potentially fatal side effects.
The Food and Drug Administration estimates 200,000 severe schizophrenics in the United States could benefit from the drug, but because of the cost only about 7,000 people are taking it.
The New York Times reported today that the manufacturer, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, has decided to reduce sharply the cost of clozapine.
But a Sandoz official said late Wednesday that the company has agreed only to look at different ways of monitoring the drug.
"We are open to alternative forms of monitoring," said Dr. David L. Winter, vice president of scientific and external affairs. "It could change the overall price structure, but we don't know how much at this point in time."
Many Veterans Administration hospitals and state medical programs have refused to use the drug because of its cost. They have said they could save millions of dollars if they were allowed to monitor its effects themselves.
Six states, led by Minnesota, have threatened antitrust lawsuits, and legislation has been introduced in Congress to make the drug more affordable.
Patients taking clozapine are monitored for agranulocytosis, a potentially fatal side effect in which the bone marrow stops producing an important type of infection-fighting white blood cell.
Sandoz has a contract with Caremark Home Services, a national home health care firm, to operate a monitoring system in which all patients taking the drug are given blood tests weekly.
The company withholds the following week's dosage if a patient's white blood cell count is down or if a blood test isn't taken.