Jan. 14: The FDA expanded the label of AbbVie Inc.’s Rinvoq (upadacitinib) to include the treatment of moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis in people at least 12 years old whose disease did not respond to previous treatment and is not well controlled with other pills or injections or when those treatments are not recommended. The agency initially approved the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor on Aug. 16, 2019. Dosing of the tablet for people weighing at least 40 kg who are at least 12 years old and less than 65 is 15 mg once daily and can be increased to 30 mg once daily. For people at least 65, the recommended dose is 15 mg once daily. Website Drugs.com lists the price of 30 15 mg tablets as more than $5,500.
Gilead Sciences, Inc. said on Jan. 14 that it is voluntarily withdrawing two indications for Zydelig (idelalisib): for the treatment of relapsed follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (FL) and small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL), both of which had accelerated approval. “As the treatment landscape for FL and SLL has evolved, enrollment into the confirmatory study has been an ongoing challenge,” said the company in a press release. Along with the FL and SLL approvals on July 23, 2014, the FDA granted traditional approval to the drug for the treatment of relapsed chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Zydelig will remain on the U.S. market for this indication.
To say that the FDA’s approval of Biogen and Eisai, Co., Ltd.’s Alzheimer’s disease treatment Aduhelm (aducanumab-avwa) on June 7, 2021, garnered an immense amount of attention would seem to be an understatement. That said, the drug has somehow gathered even more notice over the past few months due to multiple developments, with CMS most recently issuing a proposed National Coverage Determination (NCD) on Aduhelm and other monoclonal antibodies that target beta amyloid plaque that will allow Medicare coverage for the therapies but only under certain circumstances. While commercial payers often follow CMS’s lead, it remains to be seen whether that decision — plus a dramatic price cut on Aduhelm — will prompt payers that have declined to cover the therapy to change course.
There is a 30-day public comment period on the proposed NCD, which was published Jan. 11. A final decision is expected on April 11.
Between the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) and its Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), the agency approved 60 new products in 2021, including biologics, cell and gene therapies, vaccines and blood products. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued for the second year, much of the pharma industry’s focus, understandably, was on vaccines and therapeutics for the coronavirus. As with prior years, oncology dominated the specialty drug space, but the FDA also approved novel treatments in other areas as manufacturers continued to pursue innovative new products. Moreover, the U.S. saw the first two interchangeable biosimilars gain approval. AIS Health, a division of MMIT, spoke with various industry experts about what they considered the most notable FDA approvals in 2021.
Since 2011, the FDA has approved multiple therapies for advanced or late-stage melanoma. Recently, the agency granted an additional approval to one of those drugs for the earlier stage melanoma setting, filling an unmet need, industry experts note. However, the condition is complex to treat and may be challenging for health plans to manage.
On Dec. 3, the FDA approved Merck & Co., Inc.’s programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for the adjuvant treatment of people at least 12 years old with stage IIB or IIC melanoma following complete resection. The agency also expanded the indication for the agent’s use as an adjuvant treatment of stage III melanoma following complete resection to include pediatric patients at least 12 years old.
While the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the specialty pharmacy and home infusion spaces for the second straight year, other events also played a role. AIS Health spoke to some industry experts about 2021’s impact.
AIS Health: Looking back over the past year, what do you think were the most noteworthy occurrences within the specialty pharmacy industry, and why?
Dea Belazi, Pharm.D., M.P.H., president and CEO of AscellaHealth: Some of the noteworthy trends in SP have included the continued rise of the cost of specialty agents within health care expenditures, the continued emergence of ultra-high-cost specialty agents for rare and orphan diseases and the continued vertical integration of specialty pharmacies into health care organizations.
Dec. 8: The FDA gave another approval to Foundation Medicine, Inc.’s FoundationOne CDx as a companion diagnostic for current and future BRAF inhibitors used to treat melanoma, including monotherapies targeting BRAF V600E and BRAF/MEK inhibitor combination therapies targeting BRAF V600E or V600K mutations. The agency first approved the test on Nov. 30, 2017.
Dec. 9: The FDA granted premarket approval to Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Oncomine Dx Target Test as a companion diagnostic to help identify people with non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors have epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) exon 20-insertion mutations who may be candidates for treatment with Rybrevant (amivantamab-vmjw) from Janssen Biotech, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company. The agency initially approved the test on June 22, 2017.
CMS issued a final rule on Dec. 29 that rescinded the Most Favored Nation model. The mandatory model would have priced Medicare Part B drugs on the U.S. market based on their prices in certain countries. An interim final rule that was published in November 2020 had been blocked from being implemented on Jan. 1, 2021.
CMS published a proposed rule on Jan. 12 that would rein in direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, which pharmacies have long complained about. The proposal would save consumers about $21.3 billion but cost the federal government $40.0 billion from 2023 through 2032.
Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) is an ultra-rare, potentially fatal disease. The FDA approved the first therapy, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s Soliris (eculizumab), a complement C5 inhibitor (C5I), to treat adults with the condition on March 16, 2007. Then the agency approved another C5I to treat adults with PNH from the same company, Ultomiris (ravulizumab-cwvz), on Dec. 21, 2019. A recent study of those two therapies from Prime Therapeutics LLC shows that there may be opportunities for payers in PNH management that will result in better health care outcomes for their members.
Despite the tremendous progress made over the past decade in developing targeted oncolytic therapies, testing for specific mutations —or biomarkers — to determine the proper candidates for those treatments lags behind. A few states have passed or are considering legislation requiring insurers to cover biomarker testing, with California becoming the most recent state to pass such a law.