Radar on Specialty Pharmacy

News Briefs: Biosimilars Have Produced About $21 Billion in Savings in U.S. Over Past Six Years

Biosimilars have produced about $21 billion in savings for the U.S. health care system over the past six years, according to the 2022 Amgen Biosimilar Trends Report. That competition is resulting in decreasing average sales prices (ASPs) for both biosimilars and their reference products, found the ninth edition of the report, and uptake of biosimilars continues to increase. In the second quarter of 2022, drug spend savings were estimated to be $3.2 billion. Biosimilars for more classes, pharmacy benefit drugs and interchangeable biosimilars are among the trends expected over the next few years.

Rheumatologists are reporting a growing familiarity with biosimilars, with three-quarters of respondents to a Cardinal Health survey saying they are “very familiar” with the agents compared with 53% who said that in 2020. The Rheumatology Insights: October 2022 report found that, among other things, almost two-thirds of respondents said they are “very comfortable” with prescribing the drugs. New patients and existing patients whose payers have mandated the use of a biosimilar are the top categories of patients for whom respondents are likely to prescribe biosimilars, both cited by about 40% of respondents.


PARP Inhibitors’ Data on Later Line Use in Ovarian Cancer Prompts Indication Withdrawals

Since June, manufacturers of the three FDA-approved poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors have withdrawn their indications in the later line treatment setting for ovarian cancer. Payers should be reviewing their utilization management criteria to make sure they are covering the drugs in the appropriate setting, advises one industry expert.

In a Form 8-K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on June 16, Clovis Oncology, Inc. said it was voluntarily withdrawing the FDA approval for Rubraca (rucaparib) for the treatment of BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer after at least two chemotherapies based on overall survival (OS) data from the ARIEL4 clinical trial. The company also disclosed that it had requested withdrawal of that indication in Europe. The drug’s indications for the maintenance treatment of adults with recurrent epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer who are in a complete or partial response to platinum-based chemotherapy and for the treatment of adults with a deleterious BRCA mutation-associated metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) who have been treated with androgen receptor-directed therapy and a taxane-based chemotherapy, the latter of which has accelerated approval, remain on its label.


Biosimilars Are Picking Up Market Share, but Some Uncertainties Still Exist

Since the FDA’s approval of the first biosimilar — Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz) from Sandoz, a division of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. — on March 6, 2015, the agency has approved almost 40 more agents via the 351(k) pathway established under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA), itself part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although not all of those agents have launched yet, and almost all of the ones that have are all professionally administered, industry experts say they expect to see more competition in the space, depending on interchangeability status, provider uptake and the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act.


Cell and Gene Therapies Hold Promise, but Stakeholders Must Overcome Challenges to Meet Their Full Potential

Researchers continue to make progress in developing cell and gene therapies that offer the promise of slowing a disease’s progression and even offering a potential cure to patients. And while these agents may offer hope to patients, some challenges exist, including access to the treatments. In order for these products to reach their full potential, stakeholders must work together to overcome these potential barriers.

With its Feb. 28 FDA approval, the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and Legend Biotech USA, Inc.’s Carvykti (ciltacabtagene autoleucel or cilta-cel) became the sixth chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy approved in the U.S. In addition, the existing CAR-Ts continue to get additional FDA-approved indications added to their labels, including for use in earlier line settings. And in August and September alone, the FDA approved two bluebird bio, Inc. gene therapies: Zynteglo (betibeglogene autotemcel or beti-cel) and Skysona (elivaldogene autotemcel or eli-cel).


FDA Grants Tentative Approval to Extended-Release Narcolepsy Agent

A new formulation of a narcolepsy drug may get uptake among providers, according to Zitter Insights research. But payers indicate that they are likely to require patients to fail at least one generic drug before getting access to the new agent and other branded medications. Still, the agent’s less onerous dosing may allow it to pull market share from similar medications within the class.

On July 19, Avadel Pharmaceuticals plc said that the FDA had granted tentative approval to its Lumryz (sodium oxybate) for the treatment of excessive daytime sleepiness or cataplexy — an abrupt loss of muscle tone that can be triggered by strong emotion — in adults with narcolepsy. The drug — which is also known as FT218 — is a once-at-bedtime extended-release version of Jazz Pharmaceuticals plc’s Xyrem, a drug that requires one dose at bedtime and then another dose between two-and-a-half to four hours later.


Specialty Pharmacy’s Dose Optimization Program Saved More Than $6 Million Last Year

As spending on specialty drugs continues to rise, payers are implementing various utilization management strategies in an effort to rein in their costs. While prior authorization and step therapy are perhaps the most common tactics, other approaches, such as quantity limits, site-of-care optimization and dose optimization also can be successful tools, as evidenced by one specialty pharmacy’s recent announcement.

In September, AllianceRx Walgreens Pharmacy revealed that its use of dose optimization resulted in $6.2 million in savings in 2021. The strategy reduces the number of dispensed units of an oral, injectable or infusible agent while delivering the same appropriate dose. Some manufacturers charge the same or similar price for different doses of a drug, so if a patient is given a prescription for two 10 mg tablets per day, and a 20 mg tablet is available, it can be more efficient and economical for the patient to take the single 20 mg tablet.


New FDA Approvals: FDA Approves Sotyktu

Sept. 9: The FDA approved Bristol Myers Squibb’s Sotyktu (deucravacitinib) for the treatment of adults with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis who are candidates for systemic therapy or phototherapy. The agent is a first-in-class, oral, selective, allosteric tyrosine kinase 2 (TYK2) inhibitor. The recommended dosage of the tablet is 6 mg once daily. The list price for a 30-day supply is $6,164.

Sept. 9: The FDA approved Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s Rolvedon (eflapegrastim-xnst) to decrease the incidence of infection, as manifested by febrile neutropenia, in adults with nonmyeloid malignancies receiving myelosuppressive anti-cancer drugs associated with clinically significant incidence of febrile neutropenia. The manufacturer says it is the first novel long-acting granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) approved in more than 20 years. The recommended dose is 13.2 mg administered subcutaneously once per chemotherapy cycle. The company says it expects the product to be available in fourth-quarter 2022.


News Briefs: Dr. Reddy’s Launched Six Strengths of Lenalidomide

Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd. launched six strengths of lenalidomide, and two of them — 2.5 mg and 20 mg — are eligible for first-to-market 180-day exclusivity, the company said Sept. 7. The FDA approved those two strengths and gave tentative approval to the others on Oct. 14, 2021. Teva Pharmaceuticals Ltd. launched the first generics of the other four strengths of the generic of Bristol Myers Squibb’s Revlimid — 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg and 25 mg — on March 7. Lenalidomide is approved for six indications for the treatment of adults with (1) multiple myeloma in combination with dexamethasone; (2) MM as maintenance treatment following autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation; (3) transfusion-dependent anemia due to low- or intermediate-1-risk myelodysplastic syndromes associated with a deletion 5q abnormality with or without additional cytogenic abnormalities; (4) mantle cell lymphoma that has relapsed or progressed after at least two treatments, including bortezomib; (5) previously treated follicular lymphoma in combination with a rituximab product; and (6) previously treated marginal zone lymphoma in combination with a rituximab product. On Sept. 17, 2020, Dr. Reddy’s said that it had settled patent litigation with Bristol Myers subsidiary Celgene Corp. that would allow it to sell volume-limited amounts of the generic as of a confidential date after March 2022. As of Jan. 31, 2026, Dr. Reddy’s can sell lenalidomide without limitation.


Questions Exist Around Some Alternate Funding Companies That Carve Out Specialty Drugs

With companies trying to keep their prescription drug spending down, some have turned to alternate funding companies. While their approaches may seem appealing initially, some — such as ones that carve out certain specialty drugs and seek coverage from patient assistance funds — may not be worth the investment, say industry sources, who encourage companies to take a closer look at what their savings actually are.

During a July 29 webinar titled Specialty Drugs Update: Trends, Controversies, and Outlook, longtime industry expert Adam J. Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Drug Channels Institute, noted that while the use of copay accumulators and maximizers has risen, “there is another newer trend that’s even scarier, and that’s the business of what some people call specialty carve-outs,” he said, calling this “the shady business of specialty carve-outs.” Vendors such as ImpaxRX, Paydhealth, SHARx, PayerMatrix and Script Sourcing get payers to exclude specialty drugs and then get those drugs covered via patient assistance programs at manufacturers or charitable foundations. If patients are denied patient assistance, coverage reverts to the company’s payer/PBM/specialty pharmacy.


Walgreens’ Purchase of Remaining Shields Stake Signals Threat to Independent Specialty Pharmacy Landscape

After increasing its share in Shields Health Solutions last year, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. has entered into an agreement to purchase the remaining stake of the health system-owned specialty pharmacy integrator. The move, says one industry expert, may represent one more step in putting independent specialty pharmacies out of business.

After making incremental investments in Shields, Walgreens said on Sept. 20 that it would purchase the remaining 30% stake for approximately $1.37 billion. Shields — which partners with health systems to help them create and grow a hospital-owned specialty pharmacy program — has served more than 1 million people and has almost 80 health system partners that represent nearly 1,000 hospitals across the U.S. Shields will operate as a separate business and brand within Walgreens.