Rare Diseases/Orphan Drugs

People With Rare Diseases Face Challenges, Require Support

In the U.S., orphan diseases are conditions impacting fewer than 200,000 people. There are more than 7,000 of these rare conditions affecting an estimated 30 million Americans — and more than 300 million people globally — and new diseases continue to be discovered. Most of them are inherited conditions caused by gene mutations, but some can be caused by environmental factors. These diseases may be serious and even life-threatening, and about half of them affect children.

Before the Orphan Drug Act was passed in 1983, not much research was done into treatments for rare diseases. But that law created financial incentives for pharmaceutical manufacturers, and since then, hundreds of orphan drugs have been developed. As of early 2020, the FDA had approved therapies for more than 800 rare diseases.

New FDA Approvals: FDA Grants Additional Indication to Olumiant

May 10: The FDA granted full approval to Eli Lilly and Co.’s Olumiant (baricitinib) for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized adults requiring supplemental oxygen, noninvasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The agency first approved the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor on May 31, 2018. The drug has been available for COVID treatment since Nov. 19, 2020, under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). The EUA remains in place for hospitalized people between the ages of 2 and 18 years old who require various degrees of oxygen support. The recommended dose of the tablet for the newest use is 4 mg once daily for 14 days or until hospital discharge, whichever occurs first. Alternative modes of administration via oral dispersion, gastrostomy tube, nasogastric tube or orogastric tube are available. The drug’s list price for a 30-day supply of 2 mg tablets is $2,497.20.

New FDA Approvals: The FDA Approved Amneal’s Alymsys

April 13: The FDA approved Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s Alymsys (bevacizumab-maly) for the treatment of multiple conditions: (1) first- or second-line treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer in combination with intravenous fluorouracil-based chemotherapy; (2) second-line treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer in combination with fluoropyrimidine-irinotecan or fluoropyrimidine-oxaliplatin chemotherapy in people who have progressed on a first-line bevacizumab product; (3) first-line treatment of unresectable, locally advanced, recurrent or metastatic non-squamous non-small cell lung cancer in combination with carboplatin and paclitaxel; (4) recurrent glioblastoma in adults; (5) metastatic renal cell carcinoma in combination with interferon alfa; (6) persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer in combination with paclitaxel and cisplatin or paclitaxel and topotecan; and (7) epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer in combination with paclitaxel, pegylated liposomal doxorubicin or topotecan for platinum-resistant recurrent disease in people receiving no more than two prior chemotherapy regimens. The vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitor is the third biosimilar of Roche Group member Genentech USA, Inc.’s Avastin (bevacizumab) that the agency has approved. Dosing of the intravenous infusion is based on indication.

Centene Plans to Sell Magellan Rx, PANTHERx Rare for $2.8 Billion

Centene Corp. has agreed to sell two of its pharmacy businesses, Magellan Rx and PANTHERx Rare, in separate transactions as part of the insurer’s decision last year to exit the PBM industry.

Prime Therapeutics, a PBM jointly owned by 19 Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliates, is acquiring Magellan Rx for about $1.35 billion in a deal that’s expected to close in the fourth quarter, while a joint venture of the Vistria Group, General Atlantic and Nautic Partners is buying PANTHERx Rare for $1.45 billion in a deal that’s expected to be completed in the next two to four months.

CMS Rule on Pharma Patient-Assistance Programs Could Cut Back on Aid

CMS’s stance has long been that manufacturer-provided assistance given to patients is excluded from best price and average manufacturer price (AMP) calculation for prescription drugs. However, the rise of copayment accumulators and maximizers — and health insurers’ subsequent taking of this assistance rather than allowing it to count toward patients’ deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums — have caused the agency to rethink its position. A rule slated to take effect at the beginning of 2023 would reverse that longtime approach, potentially resulting in increased patient out-of-pocket costs for drugs and pharma companies being on the hook for ensuring they know exactly where their assistance is going, industry experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

The Medicaid rebate rule allows state Medicaid programs to get the same discounts on drug prices that manufacturers offer commercial plans purchasing prescription drugs. Manufacturers pay rebates to Medicaid programs that are calculated based on drugmakers’ best price, which is the lowest price the manufacturer gives to most providers of health care services or items, including hospitals, HMOs and MCOs — but not patients. It includes any price adjustments, such as discounts and rebates, but not manufacturer-provided assistance to patients.

CMS Targets Patient-Assistance Programs; Rule Could Curtail Aid

CMS’s stance has long been that manufacturer-provided assistance given to patients is excluded from Best Price and average manufacturer price (AMP) calculation for prescription drugs. However, the rise of copayment accumulators and maximizers and health insurers’ subsequent taking of this assistance rather than allowing it to count toward patients’ deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums have caused the agency to rethink its position. A rule slated to take effect at the beginning of 2023 would reverse that longtime approach, potentially resulting in increased patient out-of-pocket costs for drugs and pharma companies being on the hook for ensuring they know exactly where their assistance is going, industry experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

The Medicaid rebate rule allows state Medicaid programs to get the same discounts on drug prices that manufacturers offer commercial plans purchasing prescription drugs. Manufacturers pay rebates to Medicaid programs that are calculated based on drugmakers’ Best Price, which is the lowest price the manufacturer gives to most providers of health care services or items, including hospitals, HMOs and MCOs — but not patients. It includes any price adjustments, such as discounts and rebates, but not manufacturer-provided assistance to patients.

New FDA Approvals: The FDA Granted an Additional Indication to Lynparza

March 11: The FDA granted an additional indication to AstraZeneca and Merck & Co., Inc.’s Lynparza (olaparib) for the treatment of people with germline BRCA-mutated human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-negative high-risk early breast cancer who have been treated with chemotherapy before or after surgery. The agency first approved the tablet on Dec. 19, 2014. Dosing is 300 mg twice daily. Website Drugs.com lists the price of 60 150 mg tablets as more than $7,778.

March 11: The FDA approved another use for Myriad Genetics, Inc.’s BRACAnalysis CDx test as a companion diagnostic to identify people with germline BRCA-mutated HER2-negative, high-risk early-stage breast cancer who may benefit from Lynparza (see above brief). The test detects and interprets germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 variants. The agency initially approved the test on Dec. 19, 2014.

Oncologists Are Showing More Enthusiasm for Carvykti Than Are Payers

With its Feb. 28 approval, the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and Legend Biotech USA, Inc.’s Carvykti (ciltacabtagene autoleucel; cilta-cel) becomes the second chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy to treat multiple myeloma. Payers report being less likely to prefer it over some or all other multiple myeloma treatments with a similar indication, but oncologists are showing more enthusiasm for prescribing the new agent, according to Zitter Insights.

The FDA approved Carvykti for the treatment of adults with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma after at least four lines of therapy, including a proteasome inhibitor, an immunomodulatory agent and an anti-CD38 monoclonal antibody. The product is a B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA)-directed CAR-T agent. The one-time treatment will have a phased launch and will be available through a limited network of certified treatment centers. The FDA gave the drug breakthrough therapy and orphan drug designations. The therapy’s wholesale acquisition cost is $465,000.

New FDA Approvals: FDA Approves Pyrukynd

Feb. 17: The FDA approved Agios Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s Pyrukynd (mitapivat) for the treatment of hemolytic anemia in adults with pyruvate kinase (PK) deficiency. It is a first-in-class, oral PK activator and the first FDA-approved disease-modifying therapy for the disease. The agency gave the drug priority review and orphan drug designation. Dosing for the tablet is 5 mg twice daily. Its annual cost is $334,880.

Feb. 21: The FDA gave an additional approval to Foundation Medicine, Inc.’s FoundationOne CDx as a companion diagnostic to identify people with microsatellite instability high status solid tumors who may be candidates for treatment with Merck and Co., Inc.’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab). The company says it is the first FDA-approved diagnostic for this use. The CDx has 26 companion diagnostic claims and two group claims across 27 targeted therapies.

Biomarkers’ Role in Oncology Is Growing, but They’ve Already Had Huge Impact

When the first targeted oncology therapy — Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s Gleevec (imatinib) — came to market in the U.S. more than 20 years ago, industry experts believed it was ushering in a slew of similar agents focused on a particular mutation, or biomarker. The field, however, did not quite live up to lofty expectations. And while more research has grown the industry exponentially in recent years, it still faces some challenges. But no one can deny that biomarkers have had a profound impact on cancer care.

Agents that target drivers of cancer “have fundamentally changed the way that we treat a wide range of cancers,” maintained Josina Reddy, M.D., Ph.D., global head and vice president of product development for lung, agnostic, skin and rare cancers at Genentech, Inc., a member of the Roche Group, during a recent webinar sponsored by her company. “And in this era of cancer care, identifying those biomarkers in a patient’s tumor tissue or using blood is an essential step in developing a personalized treatment plan, and for a growing share of patients, that treatment plan might include those targeted therapies.”