Specialty Drugs

Many Melanoma Therapies Exist, but Treatment Remains Challenging

Since 2011, the FDA has approved multiple 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, filling an unmet need, industry experts note. However, the condition is complex to treat and may be challenging for health plans to manage.

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.

Specialty Pharmacy, Home Infusion Spaces Saw Myriad 2021 Changes

While the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the specialty pharmacy and home infusion spaces for the second straight year, other events also played a role. AIS Health spoke to some industry experts about 2021’s impact.

AIS Health: Looking back over the past year, what do you think were the most noteworthy occurrences within the specialty pharmacy industry, and why?

Dea Belazi, Pharm.D., M.P.H., president and CEO of AscellaHealth: Some of the noteworthy trends in SP have included the continued rise of the cost of specialty agents within health care expenditures, the continued emergence of ultra-high-cost specialty agents for rare and orphan diseases and the continued vertical integration of specialty pharmacies into health care organizations.

New FDA Approvals: FDA Approves Additional Indication for FoundationOne CDx | Jan. 13, 2022

Dec. 8: The FDA gave another approval to Foundation Medicine, Inc.’s FoundationOne CDx as a companion diagnostic for current and future BRAF inhibitors used to treat melanoma, including monotherapies targeting BRAF V600E and BRAF/MEK inhibitor combination therapies targeting BRAF V600E or V600K mutations. The agency first approved the test on Nov. 30, 2017.

Dec. 9: The FDA granted premarket approval to Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Oncomine Dx Target Test as a companion diagnostic to help identify people with non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors have epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) exon 20-insertion mutations who may be candidates for treatment with Rybrevant (amivantamab-vmjw) from Janssen Biotech, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company. The agency initially approved the test on June 22, 2017.

News Briefs: CMS Rescinds Most Favored Nation Model | Jan. 13, 2022

CMS issued a final rule on Dec. 29 that rescinded the Most Favored Nation model. The mandatory model would have priced Medicare Part B drugs on the U.S. market based on their prices in certain countries. An interim final rule that was published in November 2020 had been blocked from being implemented on Jan. 1, 2021.

CMS published a proposed rule on Jan. 12 that would rein in direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, which pharmacies have long complained about. The proposal would save consumers about $21.3 billion but cost the federal government $40.0 billion from 2023 through 2032.

Payer Groups Applaud CMS Coverage Decision on Aduhelm

CMS on Jan. 11 issued its long-awaited proposed National Coverage Determination (NCD) for Aduhelm (aducanumab), the Alzheimer’s drug that has been the subject of controversy since the FDA approved it last June. In what officials acknowledged was an unusual decision, CMS said Medicare will cover Aduhelm — and any other FDA-approved monoclonal antibodies that target amyloid plaques — only for people who are enrolled in qualifying clinical trials.

Health insurer trade groups praised the decision, which comes after Aduhelm manufacturer Biogen cut the price of the drug approximately in half in a bid to encourage both provider uptake and payer coverage.

Study: Opportunities to Improve Management of PNH Exist

Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) is an ultra-rare, potentially fatal disease. The FDA approved the first therapy, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.’s Soliris (eculizumab), a complement C5 inhibitor (C5I), to treat adults with the condition on March 16, 2007. Then the agency approved another C5I to treat adults with PNH from the same company, Ultomiris (ravulizumab-cwvz), on Dec. 21, 2018. A recent study of those two therapies from Prime Therapeutics LLC shows that there may be opportunities for payers in PNH management that will result in better health care outcomes for their members.

Prime presented findings from the study at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) Nexus meeting, which was held Oct. 18 through 21 in Denver. Funding for the study was provided by Apellis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., manufacturer of Empaveli (pegcetacoplan), a C3 inhibitor approved May 14, 2021, for the treatment of PNH in treatment-naïve people, as well as ones switching from any C5I. Researchers were from Prime, Apellis and the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy.

Aduhelm Price Cut May Not Sway Private Payers’ View of Drug

Since the FDA greenlit the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm (aducanumab) in July under the accelerated approval program, concerns over the drug’s hefty price tag and overall effectiveness have been mounting. Now, the drug’s manufacturer, Biogen Inc., has cut the price approximately in half. One expert tells AIS Health that the move may cause private insurers to view the drug slightly more favorably, but they’re still likely to impose coverage restrictions on it. And a health plan trade group signaled that it isn’t impressed by the price cut.

After all, the furor surrounding Aduhelm is not all about price. “The clinical evidence that the FDA relied upon when approving the drug had various limitations, and the findings of the two clinical studies were conflicting,” James Chambers, Ph.D., MPharm., an associate professor at the Tufts Medical Center Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies, tells AIS Health via email.

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.

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.

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.