When You're On Your Own
But those who do not have a clinic operating on their behalf may have to take the initiative and go directly to the company themselves. (For more information, see Cracking the Secret.) If, like Suzanne, they are unable to get insurance coverage, they may be fortunate enough to receive the drug from the company.
This work by the drug companies has obvious benefits for the patients, says Lewis, but it also has perks for the drug companies as well. The Berkeley hematologist recalls a case 16 years ago when he wanted to give Alpha Interferon to a patient with myeloma, but the patient had been refused coverage. At the time, two companies were making the drug, but only one would help Lewis' patient by giving the drug for free.
"For many years I only used that company's brand [of Alpha Interferon], and most of my colleagues followed in my footsteps. It was four or five years before I would use the other company's drugs," he says.
Kristi Coale is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who specializes in science and medical issues. Her work has appeared in Salon, Wired, and The Nation.