Specialty Pharmacy

Walgreens Will Launch New Specialty Pharmacy With ‘Significant’ Cell and Gene Therapy Offering

On April 24, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s Walgreens revealed that it will launch Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy on Aug. 1. The company is touting the new division, which will include AllianceRx Walgreens Pharmacy and four central specialty pharmacies, as being able to swiftly serve patients without being invested in a PBM. And that could mean enhanced opportunities for contracting with payers and manufacturers, according to one expert.

The new unit will also feature nearly 300 community-based specialty pharmacies across the U.S. and a new 18,000-foot Gene & Cell Services Pharmacy and Innovation Center in Pittsburgh. The division will have more than 1,500 specialty-trained pharmacists, 5,000 patient advocacy support staffers and 10 Specialty360 teams. It also has access to more than 240 limited distribution drugs, including 40 narrow networks and 12 exclusive limited distribution agents.

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Specialty Drug Benefits Survey Spotlights Gene Therapy, Biosimilar Strategies

While over 90% of health plans receive specialty medication rebates under the pharmacy benefit, the receipt of medical-benefit rebates has risen in the past one to two years, according to the 2024 Trends in Specialty Drug Benefits Report, published by Pharmaceutical Strategies Group, an EPIC company. The report also covered topics like the management strategies of Humira biosimilars and the financial risk associated with cell and gene therapy.

The report is based on responses from 185 benefits leaders from employers, unions/Taft-Hartley plans and health plans representing plan sponsors of approximately 86.6 million covered lives, conducted from Sept. 18, 2023, through Oct. 13, 2023.

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Specialty Drug Benefits Survey Spotlights Gene Therapy, Biosimilar Strategies

While over 90% of health plans receive specialty medication rebates under the pharmacy benefit, the receipt of medical-benefit rebates has risen in the past one to two years, according to the 2024 Trends in Specialty Drug Benefits Report, published by Pharmaceutical Strategies Group, an EPIC company. The report also covered topics like the management strategies of Humira biosimilars and the financial risk associated with cell and gene therapy.

The report is based on responses from 185 benefits leaders from employers, unions/Taft-Hartley plans and health plans representing plan sponsors of approximately 86.6 million covered lives, conducted from Sept. 18, 2023, through Oct. 13, 2023.

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Walgreens Will Launch New Specialty Pharmacy With ‘Significant’ Cell and Gene Therapy Offering

On April 24, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s Walgreens revealed that it will launch Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy on Aug. 1. The company is touting the new division, which will include AllianceRx Walgreens Pharmacy and four central specialty pharmacies, as being able to swiftly serve patients without being invested in a PBM. And that could mean enhanced opportunities for contracting with payers and manufacturers, according to one expert.

The new unit will also feature nearly 300 community-based specialty pharmacies across the U.S. and a new 18,000-foot Gene & Cell Services Pharmacy and Innovation Center in Pittsburgh. The division will have more than 1,500 specialty-trained pharmacists, 5,000 patient advocacy support staffers and 10 Specialty360 teams. It also has access to more than 240 limited distribution drugs, including 40 narrow networks and 12 exclusive limited distribution agents.

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Payers Continue to Employ Array of Specialty Drug Management Strategies

Rebates continue to be a huge part of the specialty pharmacy space, with 93% of respondents to a recent survey receiving them for drugs in the pharmacy benefit. Meanwhile, 44% of respondents said their firm received rebates for medical benefit drugs, representing an increase from 39% in the prior year’s survey. Those are just some of the findings in the Trends in Specialty Drug Benefits Report from Pharmaceutical Strategies Group (PSG), an EPIC company.

The 11th annual survey, which reflects 2023 information, was fielded from Sept. 18 through Oct. 13, 2023. The primary source of respondents was PSG’s proprietary database of drug benefit decision makers, and they included people from employers, health plans (or third-party administrators or insurance companies) or union/Taft-Hartley plans. There were 185 benefits leaders from plan sponsors with an estimated 86.6 million lives.

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News Briefs: CarelonRx Launches New Specialty Offering

CarelonRx, the PBM arm of Elevance Health, Inc., has a new “comprehensive approach to specialty medication savings across pharmacy and medical benefits,” according to an April 22 press release. The new product will use “advanced analytics” to “identify members whose health is at the greatest risk,” which will prompt “a thorough review of a member’s clinical diagnoses, medications, whole-health integrated support, and a review of their site of care options.” At that point, identified members will receive “proactive pharmacist-led outreach to address any barriers to care, and to further coordinate integrated care with their whole health team, including medical and behavioral health professionals.” Elevance recently announced a pending deal to acquire Kroger Inc.’s specialty pharmacy division as it grows its Carelon health services division.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said on April 24 that he has launched an investigation into the “outrageously high prices” that Novo Nordisk is charging for its popular treatments for weight loss and Type 2 diabetes, Wegovy and Ozempic. In a letter to the Danish drugmaker’s CEO, Sanders — who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — noted that the list prices for Wegovy and Ozempic ($1,349 and $969 per month, respectively) are far higher than what the drugs can be purchased for in countries like Canada and Germany. In his letter, Sanders requested information about how Novo Nordisk determined the prices for Ozempic and Wegovy, what it spent on research and development, and more.

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ICER President, Gene Therapy Report Tackle Tough Cost-Control Questions

One week before the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review released a white paper laying out ways to manage ultra-high-cost gene therapies, ICER President and CEO Sarah Emond shared frank views about the consequences that result when medications are priced far higher than they need to be.

“We’re making tradeoff decisions all the time,” Emond said during an April 16 presentation at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy annual conference in New Orleans. “Anyone who thinks that we are not rationing care in the United States is not paying attention. It has a lot to do with how good your health insurance is and how much money you have.”

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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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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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Insurers Will Likely Require Step Therapy for New Schizophrenia Drug

Bristol Myers Squibb on March 18 completed its $14 billion acquisition of Karuna Therapeutics, Inc., whose lead drug, KarXT (xanomeline-trospium), is expected to gain FDA approval for treating schizophrenia later this year. That deal and results from clinical trials suggest KarXT could gain significant market share in a crowded schizophrenia medication marketplace.

However, two drug pricing experts tell AIS Health that it remains to be seen how payers will cover KarXT, especially if it’s priced significantly higher than its generic competitors, as it is expected to be. KarXT, an oral medication, has an FDA Prescription Drug User Fee Act data of Sept. 24, meaning the FDA will make an approval decision by then.

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