The first two biotech drugs to price in the new health care environment apparently will be Berlex/Chiron's Betaseron beta interferon and Genentech Inc.'s Pulmozyme DNase. The reception those pricing decisions receive will give others in the industry a strong indication of what to expect when they price their own products.

Berlex Laboratories last week said that the annual cost of Betaseron, which has been approved for remitting/relapsing multiple sclerosis, will be in the $8,500-$10,000 range.

The $10,000 figure will reflect patients paying full price for the drug, while support programs will lower the average price to about $8,500, said Jeffrey Latts, vice president of clinical research and development at Berlex. The company plans a formal mailing with price per vial information to neurologists and pharmacists this week, Latts said.

Watchdogs respond

The decision puts the drug's price at the top of Berlex's stated range of $5,000-$10,000, and it elicited an immediate response from Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, and Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, ranking minority member of the panel.