Specialty Drugs

CarelonRx Gains Scale, Limited-Distribution Contracts Via Kroger Specialty Pharmacy

The Kroger Company recently revealed that it had entered into a definitive agreement to sell Kroger Specialty Pharmacy to CarelonRx, a subsidiary of Elevance Health, Inc, formerly known as Anthem, Inc. The deal, say industry experts, allows Kroger to focus on retail pharmacy while bringing scale and coveted limited-distribution contracts to CarelonRx as it seeks to establish a stronger footing within the specialty space.

Unveiled March 18, the deal is expected to close in the second half of this year. It does not include Kroger’s in-store retail pharmacies and The Little Clinics. CarelonRx, formerly known as IngenioRx, operates within Carelon, Elevance’s health care services brand that serves one in three people across 50 states.

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Budgets Propose Eliminating Interchangeability Status for Biosimilars

When then-President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law on March 23, 2010, he established the 351(k) biosimilar pathway via the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA), which amended the Public Health Service (PHS) Act. Since then, the FDA has approved almost 50 biosimilars, with nearly one fifth of those gaining interchangeable status. That distinction, however, has been increasingly under fire, most recently in President Biden’s fiscal year (FY) 2025 budget, which proposes eliminating the interchangeability designation entirely. That could help boost uptake of biosimilars, resulting in prescription drug savings, say some industry experts.

In contrast to the EU, whose European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Heads of Medicines Agencies (HMA) clarified in September 2022 that all biosimilars approved in the EU are interchangeable, the FDA has created two levels of biosimilars: biosimilars and interchangeable biosimilars.

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Pharma Takes Aim at New Legal Foe: State Drug Affordability Boards

Prescription drug affordability boards (PDABs) have been rising in popularity as a way for states to tamp down on soaring drug prices. But a recent lawsuit filed by one drugmaker and public remarks from the industry’s main trade group make it clear that the pharma sector sees such boards — and the price caps some are authorized to set — as a major threat.

In a suit filed on March 22, Amgen Inc. takes aim at Colorado’s Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which is the closest to becoming the first state board to set an upper payment limit (UPL) on a drug. The state in late February initiated formal rulemaking to set a UPL for Enbrel (etanercept), Amgen’s rheumatoid arthritis treatment, after determining it was unaffordable.

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Pharma Takes Aim at New Legal Foe: State Drug Affordability Boards

Prescription drug affordability boards (PDABs) have been rising in popularity as a way for states to tamp down on soaring drug prices. But a recent lawsuit filed by one drugmaker and public remarks from the industry’s main trade group make it clear that the pharma sector sees such boards — and the price caps some are authorized to set — as a major threat.

In a suit filed on March 22, Amgen Inc. takes aim at Colorado’s Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board, which is the closest to becoming the first state board to set an upper payment limit (UPL) on a drug. The state in late February initiated formal rulemaking to set a UPL for Enbrel (etanercept), Amgen’s rheumatoid arthritis treatment, after determining it was unaffordable.

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With Kroger Specialty Purchase, Elevance Closes Gap in Race With Health Service Giants

Elevance Health Inc. plans to buy Kroger Co.’s specialty pharmacy division, the firms revealed on March 18, in a deal that closely follows Elevance’s purchase off Paragon Healthcare, Inc., an infusion center provider. Health care insiders say that the Kroger deal is a shrewd play for Elevance, which in recent years has sought to expand its Carelon health services arm, particularly the CarelonRx PBM.

The deal could help Elevance catch up with other major insurers. Elevance, a for-profit Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliate, lags behind its publicly traded managed care competitors, such as The Cigna Group, CVS Health Corp. and UnitedHealth Group, in health services revenue. All three health services divisions, respectively Evernorth, Caremark and Optum, include a major PBM and lucrative specialty pharmacy divisions that serve both their own plans and payers outside their own enterprise. Cigna and CVS's care management divisions had higher revenues and earnings than their insurance divisions in the fourth quarter of 2023, which is often the case for those firms.

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New Medicare, Manufacturer Coverage Are Among Solutions for Cell and Gene Therapies

Among the issues facing health care payers, paying for multimillion-dollar cell and gene therapies (CGTs) is one of the most pressing, as evidenced during AHIP’s 2024 Medicare, Medicaid, Duals & Commercial Markets Forum, held March 12 through 14 in Baltimore. While they were mentioned by multiple speakers throughout the three-day conference, speakers at one session focused on the topic said that while approaches such as short-term milestone-based contracts and risk pools are being used, no perfect solution has emerged yet.

Many CGTs are in the pipeline, impacting potentially millions of patients and prompting many questions around affordability and accessibility, stated Sean Dickson, senior vice president of pharmaceutical policy at AHIP, during the March 12 session, titled “Cell and Gene Therapies: Regulatory Updates and Coverage Policies.” “Oncology is where it will get really interesting,” and these agents will have the greatest impact on Medicare payers.

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‘Landmark Approval’ Brings New Weapon to Advanced Melanoma Fight

The FDA recently approved a first-in-class agent to treat a particularly deadly cancer. The therapy signifies a promising new development in the treatment of solid tumors, which represent about 90% of all cancers in the U.S.

On Feb. 16, the FDA gave accelerated approval to Iovance Biotherapeutics, Inc.’s Amtagvi (lifileucel) for the treatment of adults with unresectable or metastatic melanoma previously treated with a programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) inhibitor and, if BRAF V600 positive, a BRAF inhibitor with or without a MEK inhibitor. The agency gave the therapy orphan drug, regenerative medicine advanced therapy, fast track and priority review designations.

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Cardinal Health Report Highlights ‘Pivotal Year’ for Biosimilars

The FDA approved the first biosimilar in 2015, and since then, almost 50 more have been greenlighted. Last year saw the biggest influx of these competitors onto the U.S. market, and a recent Cardinal Health report, titled 2024 Biosimilars Report: Insights on a pivotal year of evolution and expansion, highlights this burgeoning market.

Since 2015, biosimilars have saved $23.6 billion, with $9.4 billion of that total coming in 2023 alone. Last year saw the long-awaited competition to the top-selling Humira (adalimumab) from AbbVie Inc., with nine biosimilars launching, two of them with interchangeable status, an important differentiator to providers. “As the top-selling drug in the world with annual sales of $20 billion in 2022, the potential monetary impact of increased market competition cannot be overstated,” says the report.

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PBMs Place Biosimilars on Preferred Tiers, yet Adoption Varies by Product

PBMs often place biosimilar medications on preferred formulary tiers soon after the drugs hit the market, a change from a few years ago, when payers were more hesitant to cover biosimilars, according to a recent Cardinal Health report. However, one of the report’s authors tells AIS Health that PBMs in some cases have kept the reference biologic product on their preferred tier as well, leading to slower adoption of biosimilars.

For instance, Fran Gregory, Pharm.D., Cardinal Health’s vice president of emerging therapies, notes that CVS Health Corp.'s Caremark, The Cigna Group's Express Scripts and UnitedHealth Group's Optum Rx all added Humira (adalimumab) biosimilars to their national preferred formularies when they launched last year. Gregory says those PBMs were “very strategic” about which of the nine Humira biosimilars to place in a preferred tier, analyzing the wholesale acquisition costs (WACs) and concentrations of the products and tailoring them “based on the lines of business they’re serving.” But the payers all put the same tier as the biosimilars, which Gregory says “is where the challenge lies” with adoption.

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Alternative Payment Policies May Help Medicare Part B Reap Greater Savings From Biosimilars

The growing use of biosimilars has reduced spending in the Medicare Part B program, but there are opportunities to further reduce costs — through greater use of more affordable biosimilars and through the implementation of different payment policies, according to a study published by the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG analyzed the average sales prices, utilization and costs of 21 biosimilar drugs and their reference biologic products in the Medicare Part B program between 2015 and 2021. The agency found that overall use rate of biosimilars in Part B jumped from 18% in 2015 to 62% in 2021. While the adoption of biosimilars has lowered both the prices of biologics and biosimilars, Part B spending could have been reduced by $179 million in 2021 if the five biosimilars that cost less than their reference products — epoetin alfa, infliximab, bevacizumab, rituximab and trastuzumab — had been used at the same rate as the most widely used biosimilar, filgrastim.

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