Radar on Specialty Pharmacy

Would Drug Pricing Legislation Impact Innovation?

October 17, 2019

Many innovative new therapies are coming onto the market, but they also are launching with increasingly higher price tags, even as lawmakers and regulators launch a flurry of activity aimed at bringing down drug prices. Some industry experts caution that a few of the bills, if passed, could endanger the research and development efforts around these novel drugs, while others question that hypothesis.

By Angela Maas

Many innovative new therapies are coming onto the market, but they also are launching with increasingly higher price tags, even as lawmakers and regulators launch a flurry of activity aimed at bringing down drug prices. Some industry experts caution that a few of the bills, if passed, could endanger the research and development efforts around these novel drugs, while others question that hypothesis.

One of the proposals is the International Pricing Index, an effort by HHS to bring payments for Medicare Part B closer to what 16 other “developed economies” pay for these drugs. The Senate’s Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 proposes multiple changes to Medicare Part B and Part D, as well as Medicaid. And the House’s Lower Drug Costs Now Act proposes, among other things, requiring HHS to negotiate the prices of up to 250 drugs in Medicare without competitors. Companies not coming to an agreement would be subject to financial penalties.

Drugmakers have vociferously pushed back on many of the proposals, with one of the arguments against them being that the efforts would have a chilling effect on pharma R&D.

“Empirical evidence” exists to support the idea that “lower spending on pharmaceuticals will lead to lower R&D spending and lower yield of innovative drugs,” says Elan Rubinstein, Pharm.D., principal at EB Rubinstein Associates. But “there isn’t enough evidence either way” to say whether “there aren’t policies besides spending that can impact innovation.”

“Additional patent protections and favorable tax treatment of R&D expenditures for drugs designated to treat ‘orphan’ indications appear have resulted in a large push among manufacturers and investors to bring those products to market,” he notes.

According to Lisa Kennedy, Ph.D., chief economist and managing principal at Innopiphany LLC, “the biopharmaceutical industry is responsible for approximately 70% of all innovation within health care. Price fixing of pharmaceuticals has been shown in several studies to have a knock-on effect on innovation.”

She also asserts that oncology, one of the most productive and exciting areas of innovation in the biopharmaceutical industry, could be hit particularly hard.

Study Shows Growing IL-17 Use in Psoriasis

October 14, 2019

For many years, the psoriasis treatment landscape was dominated by tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors. But with the FDA’s approval of three interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitors — as well as other drugs with different mechanisms of action — for the condition, those therapies are becoming more common among treatment regimens.

The first IL-17 inhibitor on the U.S. market was Cosentyx (secukinumab) from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., which launched in 2015. The next therapy was Taltz (ixekizumab) from Eli Lilly and Co., and then on Feb. 15, 2017, the agency approved Siliq (brodalumab) from Ortho Dermatologics.

By Angela Maas

For many years, the psoriasis treatment landscape was dominated by tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors. But with the FDA’s approval of three interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitors — as well as other drugs with different mechanisms of action — for the condition, those therapies are becoming more common among treatment regimens.

The first IL-17 inhibitor on the U.S. market was Cosentyx (secukinumab) from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., which launched in 2015. The next therapy was Taltz (ixekizumab) from Eli Lilly and Co., and then on Feb. 15, 2017, the agency approved Siliq (brodalumab) from Ortho Dermatologics.

An AllianceRx Walgreens Prime study sampled 5,215 members who started on an IL-17 from January 2016 through December 2017. The study showed that 2,218, or 42.5%, switched from a prior biologic, while 2,997, or 57.5%, started on an IL-17 as their first psoriasis biologic. Among those who started their biologic regimens on an IL-17 inhibitor, 2,266 started on Cosentyx, followed by 725 who initiated on Taltz and six who started on Siliq.

Researchers also examined 180-day adherence outcomes among members who switched to an IL-17 inhibitor from another biologic, as determined by proportion of days covered (PDC). The mean PDC increase after moving to an IL-17 was 6.4%.

Among those moving to an IL-17, 45.7% said their outcomes were better, 26.5% said they were the same, 5.3% said they were worse, and 22.6% said they were inconsistent.

According to Renee Baiano, Pharm.D., clinical program manager at AllianceRx Walgreens Prime and the lead author of the poster, the main takeaway for payers is that “by [the] last quarter of 2017, IL-17 inhibitors may have gained clinical acceptance in the treatment of psoriasis, given the increase in patients prescribed as their first biologic.” She adds that “it is important for payers to be aware they may see more of their members being prescribed IL-17 inhibitors and will need to determine the appropriate placement of these newer agents within their formulary.”

With More AML Therapies Available, Payers Apply Various Management Tactics

September 19, 2019

The FDA has approved nearly 10 therapies for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) over the past couple of years. Because most of them target a specific biomarker, it’s critical that people diagnosed with the condition undergo genetic testing to determine whether they fall into a particular patient subgroup.

“Prior to two years ago, we had no new drugs for over a decade, and now we have eight new drugs approved in just the last two years, so the whole field has changed,” said Daniel J. DeAngelo, M.D., Ph.D., chief, division of leukemia, institute physician, professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, in an interview published on the website obroncology.com.

By Angela Maas

The FDA has approved nearly 10 therapies for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) over the past couple of years. Because most of them target a specific biomarker, it’s critical that people diagnosed with the condition undergo genetic testing to determine whether they fall into a particular patient subgroup.

“Prior to two years ago, we had no new drugs for over a decade, and now we have eight new drugs approved in just the last two years, so the whole field has changed,” said Daniel J. DeAngelo, M.D., Ph.D., chief, division of leukemia, institute physician, professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, in an interview published on the website obroncology.com.

Many of the newer drugs are oral formulations, which, “in general, are easier to administer,” points out Mesfin Tegenu, R.Ph., president of PerformRx, LLC. “Rather than having to go into a hospital or clinic for treatment, a patient can simply take a medication orally for their condition.”

Payers utilize a variety of management tactics with AML therapies. “Payers often require prior authorization of these therapies due to safety, concern for off-label usage and cost,” says Tegenu. A variety of drugs are used off-label for certain patient populations, he notes.

Asked if AML is a condition suited for value-based contracting, Tegenu asserts that “all therapies associated with high cost should have some kind of value-based payment models to make drug manufacturers an integral part of the health care delivery system. We plan to initiate this discussion with all leading pharmaceutical companies.”

According to Winston Wong, Pharm.D., president of W-Squared Group., the newer drugs would be better candidates for such deals due to AML’s heterogenicity and the fact that “the treatment foundation is still conventional chemotherapy, which for the most part is available as a generic.”

Novartis’ Zolgensma Crisis May Not Impact Pickup

September 11, 2019

The FDA in August put out a statement addressing “data accuracy issues” with Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi), a new gene therapy to treat spinal muscular atrophy in people less than two years old who have bi-allelic mutations in the survival motor neuron 1 gene.

The FDA approved the drug from AveXis, Inc., which was acquired by Novartis AG last year, on May 24. On June 28, AveXis notified the FDA that there was “a data manipulation issue that impacts the accuracy of certain data from product testing performed in animals submitted in the biologics license application (BLA) and reviewed by the FDA.”

By Angela Maas

The FDA in August put out a statement addressing “data accuracy issues” with Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi), a new gene therapy to treat spinal muscular atrophy in people less than two years old who have bi-allelic mutations in the survival motor neuron 1 gene.

The FDA approved the drug from AveXis, Inc., which was acquired by Novartis AG last year, on May 24. On June 28, AveXis notified the FDA that there was “a data manipulation issue that impacts the accuracy of certain data from product testing performed in animals submitted in the biologics license application (BLA) and reviewed by the FDA.”

The FDA said Novartis learned about the issue March 14, but rather than informing the agency, which was assessing Zolgensma’s BLA at the time, the company conducted its own internal investigation, reporting its findings to the FDA after the investigation was completed. Still, the agency said that it “remains confident that Zolgensma should remain on the market.”

The one-time therapy is the most expensive drug in the world, with a price tag of $2.1 million.

In response, Novartis issued a press release Aug. 6 that read, in part, “we maintain that the totality of the evidence demonstrating the product’s effectiveness and its safety profile continue to provide compelling evidence supporting an overall favorable benefit-risk profile.”

Novartis recently said that Zolgensma has coverage plans from payers representing 40% of commercial lives, and high-profile news reports name Aetna Inc. and Anthem, Inc. among insurers expanding their policies to cover more patients. So will the current situation have any impact on pickup among payers and providers?

Based on the FDA’s statement, “I expect there will be no more than a minor and temporary blip in pickup of Zolgensma among providers and payers,” says Elan Rubinstein, Pharm.D., principal at EB Rubinstein Associates.

More Than 1,000 RM/AT Products Are in Pipeline

August 15, 2019

This past quarter saw two new gene therapies: Novartis AG subsidiary AveXis, Inc.’s Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi) received FDA approval May 24 for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy, and bluebird bio’s Zynteglo (autologous CD34+ cells encoding βA-T87Q-globin gene) received conditional marketing authorization from the European Commission for transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia.

While only a handful of therapies in the broader regenerative medicine/advanced therapy (RM/AT) space are available globally, a new report shows that is likely to change, as there are more than 1,000 products in the pipeline.

By Angela Maas

This past quarter saw two new gene therapies: Novartis AG subsidiary AveXis, Inc.’s Zolgensma (onasemnogene abeparvovec-xioi) received FDA approval May 24 for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy, and bluebird bio’s Zynteglo (autologous CD34+ cells encoding βA-T87Q-globin gene) received conditional marketing authorization from the European Commission for transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia.

While only a handful of therapies in the broader regenerative medicine/advanced therapy (RM/AT) space are available globally, a new report shows that is likely to change, as there are more than 1,000 products in the pipeline.

The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine published the report, titled Quarterly Global Regenerative Medicine Sector Report: Q2 2019, on Aug. 1. It shows there are 1,069 clinical trials using specific RM/AT technologies, which include gene therapy, gene-modified cell therapy, cell therapy and tissue engineering. Ninety-four of those products are in Phase III trials.

While Zolgensma’s $2.125 million price for a one-time infusion makes it the costliest drug on the planet, many other newer RM/AT products are certainly not cheap. Though many manufacturers are offering various reimbursement schemes, including rebates if a therapy doesn’t work, other outcomes-based deals and multiyear pay-over-time payment options, experts note that many barriers exist in the execution of these strategies.

“In principle, spreading the cost over a five-year period and putting the cost installments at risk based upon efficacy is a good approach,” says Winston Wong, Pharm.D., president of W-Squared Group, about Zolgensma. “However, the devil is in the details. Do we have the systems in place that have the capability to administer a five-year contract?”

According to Wong, “From the manufacturer perspective, a value-based contract implies that no payment would be made if the patient relapses or passes on. Systems are not in place to have the ability to track the patient once therapy is administered.”