Radar on Specialty Pharmacy

New FDA Approvals: FDA Expands Bivigam Patient Population

Dec. 8: The FDA expanded the patient population of ADMA Biologics, Inc.’s Bivigam (immune globulin intravenous, human) to include the treatment of people at least 2 years old with primary humoral immunodeficiency. The agency initially approved the therapy on Dec. 21, 2012. The initial intravenous infusion rate is 0.5 mg/kg/minute for the first 10 minutes for a dose of 300-800 mg/kg every three to four weeks. The maintenance infusion rate may be increased every 20 minutes by 0.8 mg/kg/minute up to 6 mg/kg/minute. Drugs.com lists the price of a 50 mL intravenous solution as more than $756.

Dec. 13: The FDA approved US WorldMeds’ Iwilfin (eflornithine) to reduce the risk of relapse in adult and pediatric patients with high-risk neuroblastoma (HRNB) who have demonstrated at least a partial response to prior multiagent, multimodality therapy, including anti-disialoganglioside (anti-GD2) immunotherapy. Between 700 and 800 cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed annually in the U.S., with 90% of those before age 5. About half of those cases in children are HRNB. The agency used the Real-Time Oncology Review pilot program and the Assessment Aid. It also granted the application priority review and breakthrough drug and orphan drug designations. The recommended dosing of the tablet is based on body surface area.

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2023 Notable FDA Approvals Include Several Cell and Gene Therapies, First-Time Biosimilars

This past year, the FDA continued to rebound from a drop in approvals, marking the highest number in years. The agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) approved 55 novel drugs last year, and its Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) approved 17 agents. That’s up from 37 CDER-approved therapies in 2022 and 51 in 2011. In 2022, CBER OK’d 13 agents, up from 10 in 2021. Specialty agents, such as cell and gene therapies, continued to make up a large portion of those new approvals, while the FDA approved several biosimilars, including a handful that were the first versions of their reference drugs. AIS Health, a division of MMIT, spoke with industry experts about what they view as the most notable FDA approvals of 2023.

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Legal Battle Over Copay Accumulators Continues; Questions Remain Over HHS Policy Enforcement

A district court judge wasted no time in responding to the latest motion in an ongoing lawsuit filed against HHS by patient advocacy groups over the use of copay accumulators. In his decision, the judge reiterated his September decision vacating one rule and reinstating another that prohibits the use of accumulators for drugs that do not have a medically appropriate generic equivalent. It’s not entirely clear what next steps will be, but one patient advocacy group says it hopes to see HHS enforce the policy limiting plans’ use of accumulator programs.

While pharma manufacturers began offering the programs to help patients stay on costly therapies, payers have pushed back, saying they lead to higher-cost agents to be used over lower-cost ones. At the same time, similar programs, such as copay maximizers and alternate funding programs, have increased in use, to payers’ dismay.

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News Briefs: Elevance Health Will Acquire Paragon Healthcare

Elevance Health, Inc. has agreed to acquire infusion services provider Paragon Healthcare, Inc., the health insurer said Jan. 4. The companies did not disclose financial details of the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of 2024. Paragon Healthcare serves more than 35,000 people at more than 40 ambulatory infusion centers in eight states, as well as in the home setting, and it treats more than 300 conditions. Once the deal is finalized, Paragon Healthcare will operate as part of CarelonRx, which is the pharmacy segment within Elevance Health’s Carelon health services division. The deal follows Elevance Health’s acquisition of BioPlus, a specialty pharmacy subsidiary of CarepathRx, a portfolio company of Nautic Partners, which it closed in February 2023.

Hizentra (immune globulin subcutaneous [human] 20% liquid) is now available in a 10 g prefilled syringe, manufacturer CSL Behring disclosed Jan. 3. The agent is the first and only subcutaneous immune globulin treatment approved for the maintenance of chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy in the U.S. It also is approved for primary immunodeficiency in people at least 2 years old. In addition to the new size, the drug also is available in 1 g, 2 g and 4 g prefilled syringes.

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Payers Turn to Various Management Strategies for Cell and Gene Therapies

In December, the FDA approved the two newest cell and gene therapies, which were the first such agents approved for the treatment of sickle cell disease. As more of these products launch onto the U.S. market — the agency previously predicted that it would be approving 10 to 20 of the treatments by 2025 — payers are taking a variety of approaches to managing the therapies. Cost remains the main obstacle to their use, but their long-term durability also remains a question to some extent.

Dec. 8 saw the newest approvals, both for the treatment of sickle cell disease in people at least 12 years old: bluebird bio, Inc’s Lyfgenia (lovotibeglogene autotemcel; lovo-cel) and Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. and CRISPR Therapeutics’ Casgevy (exagamglogene autotemcel; exa-cel). The latter agent is the first CRISPR/Cas9 genome-edited cell therapy that the FDA has approved. The FDA gave both applications priority review, orphan drug, fast track and regenerative medicine advanced therapy designations. It also gave Lyfgenia rare pediatric disease designation.

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New Ulcerative Colitis Agents, Routes of Administration Could See Shift to Pharmacy Benefit for Class

The ulcerative colitis (UC) space has seen multiple new approvals recently that could focus payer management even more on the condition. Payers already take an aggressive approach toward managing branded agents within the class, according to a Zitter Insights survey. That stance, say industry experts, will only grow with the new drugs and administration routes.

While no cure exists for the inflammatory bowel disease, the FDA has approved numerous agents to treat signs and symptoms of the condition. In addition to the nine biosimilars of AbbVie Inc.’s Humira (adalimumab) that have launched in the U.S. in 2023, a handful of other approvals happened from late September through late October. All of the agents offer maintenance dosing either through an oral or subcutaneous route of administration.

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New FDA Approvals: FDA Grants Additional Indication to Orencia

Oct. 30: The FDA gave an additional approval to Bristol Myers Squibb’s Orencia (abatacept) for the subcutaneous treatment of people at least 2 years old with active psoriatic arthritis. The agency first approved the selective T cell costimulation modulator on Dec. 23, 2005. Dosing for the newest use is 50 mg once weekly for people with a body weight of 10 kg to less than 25 kg, 87.5 mg for those with a body weight of 25 kg to less than 50 kg and 125 mg for those with a body weight of at least 50 kg. The agent also is approved for intravenous dosing of certain indications. GoodRx lists one carton of four 125 mg/mL single-dose syringes as more than $5,520.

Oct. 31: The FDA expanded the approval of Fresenius Kabi’s Idacio (adalimumab-aacf) for the treatment of adults with non-infectious intermediate and posterior uveitis and panuveitis. The agency first approved the biosimilar of AbbVie Inc.’s tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker Humira (adalimumab) on Dec. 13, 2022. Dosing starts with 80 mg via subcutaneous injection, followed by 40 mg every other week starting one week after the initial dose. The price of two single-dose prefilled pens or two single-dose prefilled glass syringes is $6,576.

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HHS Pushes Back on Accumulator Ruling, Prompting Wait-and-See Situation

Almost two months after a U.S. district court judge struck down a federal rule allowing health plans to not count copayment assistance against members’ out-of-pocket costs, ruling in favor of patient advocacy groups in a lawsuit against HHS, the agency has signaled that it will not — at least for the time being — take action against plans based on how they treat that assistance. The agency in a recent court filing also said it plans to issue rulemaking in response to the September ruling and requested feedback from the judge on his decision. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs appealed the government’s move.

To help patients pay for pricy therapies — usually specialty drugs — pharmaceutical manufacturers offer assistance that can help cover their out-of-pocket costs. Companies claim that the assistance helps improve patient adherence to medications that often treat rare and deadly conditions. But critics of them say such programs incentivize drugmakers to raise prices of these agents.

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Bluebird, Vertex Gene Therapies May Answer $1m Question: Can Competition Reduce Rx Prices?

The US Food and Drug Administration’s simultaneous approval of two gene therapies for sickle cell disease from Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated/CRISPR Therapeutics AG and bluebird bio on 8 December provides the competitors an equal start out of the gate, and offers another test for the Rx policy concept that intra-class competition can drive down prices.

Based on the initial list prices, though, it seems like perhaps competition cannot do that, at least not in this case, or at least not yet. Bluebird bio’s Lyfgenia has a wholesale acquisition cost of $3.1m, while the WAC for Vertex and CRISPR’s Casgevy is $2.2m, which might be a significant handicap for bluebird in securing reimbursement.

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News Briefs: HHS Unveils Draft Guidance on Using March-In Rights

On Dec. 8, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology and HHS unveiled draft guidance (88 Fed. Reg. 85593) on framework for exercising march-in rights on taxpayer-funded drugs and other products. The framework “specifies that price can be a factor in considering whether a drug is accessible to the public,” the administration said. That was one of other “new actions to promote competition in health care and support lowering prescription drug costs for American families.” Comments must be received by 5 p.m. Eastern on Feb. 6.

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