Specialty Drugs

Innovative New Drugs, Collaborative Efforts, Digital Health Care Deals Were Among 2021 Trends

While the COVID-19 pandemic still drove a lot of the conversation around the pharmaceutical industry over the past year, much of it was focused on the development of vaccines and their rollout starting in late 2020, as well as treatments for the virus. But other innovative agents also came to market in 2021, continuing the industry’s trend of producing pioneering products. AIS Health, a division of MMIT, spoke to industry experts about the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and other 2021 pharma trends.

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Biomarker Testing Is Not Keeping Up With Drug Innovations

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.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is one area that has undergone the most development. There are now more than two dozen drugs that target nine different changes in NSCLC cells that help them grow. But an article published July 7 in Cancer Therapy Advisor — which summarized a presentation at the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting — revealed that less than half of people with metastatic NSCLC received a test for five analyzed biomarkers before starting first-line treatment.

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FDA Approves Keytruda for Earlier Stage Melanoma Setting

Since 2011, the FDA has approved 10 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.

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.

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Use of New Cancer Drugs Without Documented Clinical Benefit Substantially Increases

A growing share of patients have been prescribed oral targeted cancer drugs without documented overall survival (OS) benefit — from 12.7% in 2011 to 58.8% in 2018, according to a JAMA study, which analyzed dispensing claims for oral cancer drugs first approved by the FDA between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2018. Cumulative spending on all 44 sample drugs reached $3.5 billion by the end of 2018, and 96.8% of that spending was on drugs approved based on a pivotal randomized clinical trial (RCT). Meanwhile, cumulative spending on drugs without documented OS benefit surpassed that on drugs with a documented benefit by the end of 2018. Among the top 20 drugs by spending amounts in 2018, one drug lacked a pivotal RCT and 13 drugs had no documented OS evidence at the time.

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FDA Grants Interchangeable Status to Humira Biosimilar, but Certain Factors May Hamper Its, Other Adalimumabs’ Uptake

Less than three months after granting interchangeable status to a biosimilar for the first time, the FDA has approved that status for a second biosimilar, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s Cyltezo (adalimumab-adbm). It and multiple other biosimilars of AbbVie Inc.’s Humira (adalimumab) are slated to come onto the U.S. market in 2023, but plans should be preparing now for the drugs’ launches, say industry experts. Still, a handful of factors could pose an issue with the agents’ taking market share from the reference product.

On Oct. 15, 2021, the FDA granted interchangeability status to Cyltezo for all of its approved uses. Boehringer Ingelheim’s Phase III VOLTAIRE-X clinical trial found no meaningful clinical differences in pharmacokinetics, efficacy, immunogenicity and safety over multiple switches between Humira and Cyltezo. Per the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) of 2009, the drug will have one year of exclusivity upon launch during which the FDA cannot grant interchangeable status to another Humira biosimilar.

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Oncologists Show Interest in Prescribing New CML STAMP Inhibitor Scemblix

The FDA recently approved a first-in-class agent for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Oncologists showed much more interest in the agent than did payers when Zitter Insights surveyed both stakeholder groups.

On Oct. 29, the FDA approved Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s Scemblix (asciminib) for the treatment of CML in two indications: (1) adults with Philadelphia chromosome-positive CML in chronic phase previously treated with at least two tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), which was given accelerated approval, and (2) adults with PH+ CML-CP with the T315I mutation, which was granted full approval. It is the first FDA approval of a CML therapy that is a Specifically Targeting the ABL Myristoyl Pocket (STAMP) inhibitor.

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Eli Lilly Pounces on Flailing Aduhelm With Competing Drug

Eli Lilly & Co. has announced plans to run a head-to-head clinical trial of its Alzheimer’s drug, donanemab, against Aduhelm (aducanumab), the controversial Biogen Inc. Alzheimer’s drug. Meanwhile, Aduhelm has continued to have what one expert calls “the worst drug launch ever,” after state Medicaid leaders told CMS they want no part of paying for the drug.

In its third-quarter results, Biogen reported in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that Aduhelm revenues totaled $300,000, citing the fact that many clinicians don’t want to prescribe the drug. Meanwhile, Eli Lilly & Co.’s donanemab is under an accelerated approval process. That process will include a Phase III study comparing donanemab directly to Aduhelm, according to Daniel Skovronsky, M.D., Ph.D., a Lilly senior vice president and its chief scientific and medical officer.

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