Big dosage, big profit: Does Genzyme encourage larger dosages than we need?

Genzyme logo, Gaucher Disease
Genzyme logo, Gaucher Disease

Pharmaceutical drugmaker Genzyme (GENZ), based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, specializes in creating drugs for rare diseases. It's a small market, but it's highly lucrative: the Orphan Drug Act gives the company tax credits and enhanced patent protection, virtually guaranteeing that its drugs become blockbusters.

Consider Genzyme's drug Cerezyme, which treats a rare, chronic genetic disease called Gaucher, and which has an astonishing price tag that netted the company $1.24 billion last year -- more than a quarter of its total revenue. But when a recent manufacturing problem threatened a potential Cerezyme shortage, Genzyme's response seemed to confirm some critics' long-held suspicions that the company may be encouraging inflated dosage -- and therefore higher sales -- of its drug, which costs patients hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.