Specialty Drugs

Looking to 2023, Employers Focus Benefit Changes on Specialty

Now that many large employers have finalized employee health benefits for 2023, some clear trends are emerging, pharmacy benefit consultants tell AIS Health. Among them: many plan sponsors have traditional drug benefits on auto-pilot but are hyper-focused on high-cost specialty drugs.

For non-specialty drugs, the cost trend is pretty flat, says Paul Burns, a pharmacy practice leader at the HR consulting firm Buck. “There’s been some increases over the pandemic, but it’s not wildly spiking — and that’s where 98% of the utilization is.”

Payers Worry About High Costs, Low Evidence for Gene Therapies

So far, the FDA has approved eight cell and gene therapies, but the agency is expected to approve several more medications in those classes in the next few years. That has caused concern for payers because such medications have high costs and limited clinical evidence, according to speakers who participated in an Avalere Health webinar on May 25.

As such, the federal government, PBMs, health insurers and other payers are testing innovative ways to reimburse hospitals, providers and pharmaceutical companies for administering cell and gene therapies.

Third-Party Care Pathways Gain Steam as Cancer Costs Rise

With the costs of treating cancer patients rising ever higher, payers and providers are increasingly turning to third-party pathways — or treatment protocols designed to provide the optimal therapy regimens — to improve outcomes and reduce excess costs. But not all pathways are created equal, and it’s crucial for oncology drug manufacturers to understand their nuances if they want to ensure their therapies are able to reach the most patients.

Those are the main takeaways from a recent “Meet the Expert” webinar from MMIT, AIS Health’s parent company. “It’s really key to get optimal placement of a brand on a pathway to ensure that patients can have access to these lifesaving therapies,” said Yana Faykina, senior consultant, advisory services at MMIT.

FDA’s Rinvoq Approval Brings Another Ulcerative Colitis Option

The FDA recently gave an additional indication to AbbVie Inc.’s Rinvoq (upadacitinib) in ulcerative colitis, broadening that therapeutic class even more. And while a study revealed some concerns around another agent with a similar mechanism of action, payers and gastroenterologists last year expressed interest in Rinvoq over other late-stage pipeline agents.

On March 16, the FDA expanded the label of Rinvoq to include the treatment of adults with moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis who have had an inadequate response or intolerance to at least one tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker. The agency initially approved the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor on Aug. 16, 2019. The recommended starting dose for the tablet is 45 mg once daily for eight weeks, followed by a maintenance dose of 15 mg once daily. The wholesale acquisition cost for a 30-day supply is $5,671.26.

Novartis’ Pluvicto Brings New Mechanism of Action to mCRPC Options

A new prostate cancer drug is sparking interest among payers and oncologists alike, according to a survey by Zitter Insights. While the product offers a new mechanism of action for the indication, the manufacturer recently halted production of the therapy temporarily in two of its three global sites “out of an abundance of caution” due to “potential quality issues” that could pose a glitch in initial uptake of the therapy.

On March 23, the FDA approved Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s Pluvicto (lutetium Lu 177 vipivotide tetraxetan) (formerly referred to as 177Lu-PSMA-617) for the treatment of prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA)-positive metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) in people who have been treated with androgen receptor pathway inhibition and taxane-based chemotherapy. The product from Novartis unit Advanced Accelerator Applications USA, Inc. is the first FDA-approved targeted radioligand therapy for eligible people with mCRPC that combines a targeting compound with a therapeutic radioisotope.

Study Finds PBC Drug’s Real-World, Trial Side Effects Are Similar

A recent study of a new drug to treat primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) found that common symptoms experienced by real-world patients were similar to those experienced by people in clinical trials for the agent.

PBC is a chronic disease that causes the liver’s small bile ducts to be destroyed, resulting in permanent liver damage and putting people at risk for liver failure and death. There is no cure for PBC, and the goal of treatment is to slow progression of the condition and manage its symptoms, which most commonly are itching, also known as pruritis, and fatigue.

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.

News Briefs: TG Therapeutics Withdraws Pending Applications for Ublituximab/Ukoniq Combo

TG Therapeutics, Inc. said April 15 that it voluntarily withdrew its pending Biologics License Application (BLA)/supplemental New Drug Application (sNDA) for the combination of ublituximab and Ukoniq (umbralisib) for the treatment of adults with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma. The company said it made the decision based on updated overall survival data from the UNITY-CLL Phase III trial. The company also said that it voluntarily withdrew Ukoniq from sale for two indications: (1) for adults with marginal zone lymphoma who have received at least one anti-CD20-based regimen, and (2) for adults with follicular lymphoma who have received at least three prior systemic therapies. The FDA gave the drug accelerated approval for those indications on Feb. 5, 2021. On Feb. 3, 2022, the company disclosed that the FDA was investigating a possible increased risk of death with Ukoniq based on initial findings from the UNITY clinical trial. The FDA had scheduled an April 22 meeting to discuss the sNDA for the combination therapy, as well as Ukoniq’s accelerated approvals. Following TG Therapeutics’ withdrawal of the BLA/sNDA and Ukoniq’s existing indications, the agency cancelled the meeting. The FDA is expected to make a decision on the BLA for ublituximab in relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis by Sept. 28, 2022.

A Look at Third-Party Oncology Clinical Pathways

In order to improve patient outcomes and reduce variations in oncology care, more and more payers and providers are adopting oncology clinical pathways (OCPs) — treatment protocols that aim to provide the optimal cancer care to patients at the lowest cost, according to a recent MMIT webinar. The share of oncologists exposed to third-party oncology pathways increased from 20% in 2015 to 52% in 2021, with one third of oncologists choosing a provider-focused pathway as of the fourth quarter of 2021. Breast cancer, multiple myeloma and non-small cell lung cancer are among the top therapeutic areas managed by third-party pathways.

Major PBMs Look Ahead to 2023 for Biosimilars Boom

With a raft of biosimilars coming to market starting in 2023, major PBMs are touting the pharmacy infrastructure and services that they say will position them to help customers take advantage of cost-saving opportunities in the coming years.

Speaking during recent conference calls to discuss first-quarter 2022 financial results, they also reported healthy client retention levels as PBMs move through the large-employer selling season.

“Our team is quite excited about and well positioned for the accelerating biosimilar trend that we see in front of us for the coming years,” Cigna CEO David Cordani said during a May 6 conference call to discuss first-quarter 2022 financial results, per a transcript from The Motley Fool.