Spotlight on Market Access

All Eyes Are on Novel New Therapies, Impact of IRA, AI

The FDA approved the highest number of novel therapies in years in 2023, and multiple potential blockbusters are slated for decisions in 2024. In addition, the Inflation Reduction Act looms large over the pharma industry as HHS negotiates the prices of the initial 10 Medicare Part D agents and lawsuits over the legality of the IRA play out. And while life sciences dealmaking was down a bit in 2023, the new year already looks to be more promising. AIS Health, a division of MMIT, spoke with some industry experts about their outlook for 2024.

AIS Health: What are some pharma issues to keep an eye on in 2024, and why?

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FDA Approves Game-Changing Regimen for Urothelial Cancer, but Will Cost Pose Issue?

In late 2023, the FDA approved a new treatment regimen for urothelial cancer that represents a “paradigm change,” according to one industry expert. The cost of the therapy, however, could pose a barrier to its uptake.

On Dec. 15, 2023, the FDA approved Pfizer Inc. and Astellas Pharma Inc.’s Padcev (enfortumab vedotin-ejfv) in combination with Merck & Co., Inc.’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) for the treatment of people with locally advanced or metastatic urothelial cancer (la/mUC). The agency gave accelerated approval to this combination for people with la/mUC who are not eligible for cisplatin-containing chemotherapy on April 3, 2023. The newest approval converts that accelerated approval to full and expands the labeled indication to include the treatment of people eligible for cisplatin chemotherapy. The application had priority review and breakthrough therapy designation.

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Copay Accumulator Lawsuit Comes to an End; Will Ruling Be Enforced?

An ongoing lawsuit over the use of copay accumulators is drawing to a close following the defendants’ and plaintiffs’ motions to dismiss their appeals. The ball is now in the federal government’s and state insurance commissioners’ courts to enforce a district court judge’s ruling, which states that manufacturer assistance must be counted toward patients’ out-of-pocket responsibility unless a brand-name drug has a medically appropriate generic equivalent.

Health plans and PBMs several years ago began implementing copay accumulators — and then a new iteration known as copay maximizers that declare certain drugs non-essential health benefits to avoid covering them per the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — to counter manufacturer copay assistance programs. Before these tools, that assistance would count toward beneficiaries’ annual out-of-pocket expenses. When those out-of-pocket maximums were reached, health plans would cover the remainder of members’ costs for the year. With accumulators and maximizers, patients can still use that assistance, but it does not help reduce their out-of-pocket costs.

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As Reform Efforts Persisted, PBM Trade Association Set Its Lobbying Record in 2023

The pharmaceutical and health products industry, which has consistently outspent all other industries on federal campaign contributions and lobbying, spent nearly $378.6 million in 2023 to further policy goals, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets.

With the 2024 presidential election around the corner, the pharma/health products industry nearly evenly distributed their donated campaign funds to Democratic and Republican lawmakers during the 2023-2024 election cycle. Among the 20 lawmakers who received the most contributions from the industry, nine are Democrats. President Joe Biden, who is running for re-election this year, topped the list, receiving over $232,000.

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Number of FDA Approvals Increased in 2023, With Notable Agents Including Cell and Gene Therapies

In 2023, 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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MMIT Payer Portrait: Blue Shield of California

Founded in 1938 as the California Physicians' Service, Blue Shield of California is now the fifth-largest insurer in its home state. While nearly 70% of its members are enrolled in employer-based insurance products, Blue Shield of California also offers Medicare Advantage and Affordable Care Act exchange plans. It acquired the Medicaid insurer Care1st Health Plan in 2015, which now operates as Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan. In August 2023, the insurer made headlines for breaking with its longtime pharmacy benefits manager CVS Caremark in favor of a transparency-focused model in partnership with Amazon Pharmacy and Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, among others.

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More States Eye Drug Affordability Boards, PBM Regulations

PBM and drug pricing regulation will continue to be hot topics at the state level after several years of busy lawmaking, experts predict, even as PBM reforms are diluted and stalled in Congress. They predict that more states than ever will continue to embrace or pursue policies like drug affordability review boards.

“I do think the momentum is still strong, because states have the ability to do a lot more,” Kate Sikora, associate principal at Avalere Health, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT. “Federal bills typically get a little bit watered down by the time they actually pass. So some of these state laws are a little bit heartier — a little bit more robust — in terms of what they attempt to do.”

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Study: Medicare Advantage Members Are More Likely to Use Biosimilars

Biosimilar uptake is higher for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries than their traditional Medicare (TM) counterparts, with MA members up to 2.3 times more likely to be prescribed a biosimilar, according to new research published in JAMA Health Forum. The FDA has approved 45 biosimilars so far, with more approvals expected this year.

Researchers from CMS, the FDA and policy research firm Acumen LLC studied claims and encounter data to calculate market share for 20 biosimilars across seven product categories. Biosimilar uptake was higher for MA members in every category but bevacizumab, the generic name for Genentech’s targeted cancer therapy Avastin. Avastin currently has four biosimilars available, with a fifth approved last month.

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Drug Channel Entities Are Undergoing Raft of Changes

While pharma manufacturers for the most part are still adhering to their traditional business model, other entities in the drug channel are reorganizing, which will prompt drugmakers to be nimble as they adjust to the new reality. That’s one of the overarching themes moving into 2024 discussed during a recent webinar hosted by Adam J. Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Drug Channels Institute, which was recently acquired by HMP Global. In this second of a two-part series, AIS Health highlights the remaining industry trends projected by the longtime industry expert.

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AI Use in Pharma Shows Promise, Prompts Caution

It’s hard to underestimate the reach of artificial intelligence (AI) across the health care and pharmaceutical industries. While the ultimate impact of the technology on payers and providers may be debatable, pharma companies have made broader inroads into exploring ways to enhance their efforts, including in drug discovery. Still, caution in some areas is warranted, according to some studies.

For the Managed Care Biologics & Injectables Index: Q3 2023, from Aug. 13, 2023, to Sept. 29, 2023, Zitter Insights polled 35 commercial payers covering 117.7 million lives, 103 physicians and 83 practice managers about their familiarity with Open AI’s ChatGPT and AI tools in general.

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