AstraZeneca has unveiled its "first-ever direct-to-patient programme", which will see the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker offer its breast cancer drug Arimidex to US patients for $40 a month.

Under the scheme, patients with a valid prescription for Arimidex (anastrozole) or a generic of the aromatase inhibitor (it went off-patent in the USA in the middle of 2010) can have the branded version delivered directly to their home by pharmacy benefit management company Express Scripts. AstraZeneca says that "calls from patients seeking information on how to obtain the brand Arimidex more affordably helped spur creation of the direct-to-patient programme".

The company adds that upon further research, it felt that eligible patients could realise "significant cost savings through Arimidex Direct". However, AstraZeneca notes that "prescription insurance coverage, including Medicare and Medicaid, cannot be used for any type of reimbursement", so the scheme only applies to patients who pay out of their own pockets.

At $40 a month, the price is above the normal $10 co-payment for generic anastrozole, but well below what insured patients could pay for the branded version - the price of 30 tablets of Arimidex at is listed at $458.97.

Steve Davis, head of foundation brands at AstraZeneca, noted that the scheme "marks a first" for the firm and "we believe it is also the first time eligible patients have a nationwide direct-to-patient option". He added that it is "an important new way for AstraZeneca to help meet US customer needs".

Arimidex was a blockbuster with annual sales pushing $2 billion a couple of years ago but for the fourth quarter of 2011, that had fallen globally to $166 million (-42%); in the USA, it brought in just $5 million, down 77% on the like, year-earlier period.

AstraZeneca's direct-to-patient plan comes a couple of months after Pfizer adopted a similar strategy for branded Lipitor (atorvastatin) after the cholesterol blockbuster lost patent protection in the USA in November in a bid to reduce the impact of generics.