Specialty Pharmacy

Some Employers Embrace Alternate Funding Programs Despite Legal Issues

Pharmacy benefit consultants have mixed views on how many plan sponsors are turning to alternate funding programs, which aim to save on specialty drug costs by eliminating coverage for certain drugs and diverting costs to pharmaceutical companies’ patient assistance programs. But scrutiny of the programs is growing, with one major pharma company challenging the legality of these programs in court.

“A large percentage” of WTW’s employer clients now are using this strategy, Chantell Sell Reagan, Pharm.D., the national pharmacy practice clinical lead for WTW, tells AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

Medically Integrated Dispensing Chops Waste, Signals Expansion

Newly released results of a Prime Therapeutics LLC oncology program suggest that if the PBM were to expand its highly coordinated oral oncology dispensing model beyond the pilot population, cost savings could exceed $1 million. And these promising results signal that the model may be on the brink of expanding into more disease states.

Prime’s medically integrated dispensing (MID) model, which takes a high-touch, care coordination-intensive approach, cut waste by limiting overfills, according to a Prime study released June 2. Compared with the traditional central specialty pharmacy dispensing of oral oncology drugs, the MID pilot involving 627 patients across three commercial insurance plans showed the potential to cut $1,800 in costs “per medication dose change,” according to the results.

People With Rare Diseases Face Challenges, Require Support

In the U.S., orphan diseases are conditions impacting fewer than 200,000 people. There are more than 7,000 of these rare conditions affecting an estimated 30 million Americans — and more than 300 million people globally — and new diseases continue to be discovered. Most of them are inherited conditions caused by gene mutations, but some can be caused by environmental factors. These diseases may be serious and even life-threatening, and about half of them affect children.

Before the Orphan Drug Act was passed in 1983, not much research was done into treatments for rare diseases. But that law created financial incentives for pharmaceutical manufacturers, and since then, hundreds of orphan drugs have been developed. As of early 2020, the FDA had approved therapies for more than 800 rare diseases.

News Briefs: Biogen and Samsung Bioepis Launch Byooviz

Biogen Inc. and Samsung Bioepis Co., Ltd. said on June 2 that they had launched Byooviz (ranibizumab-nuna), and the medication will be commercially available “through major distributors across the U.S.” on July 1. The drug is the first FDA-approved ophthalmology biosimilar and references Roche Group unit Genentech USA, Inc.’s Lucentis (ranibizumab). On Sept. 20, 2021, the FDA approved Byooviz for the treatment of neovascular (wet) age-related macular degeneration, macular edema following retinal vein occlusion and myopic choroidal neovascularization. The list price of the intravitreal injection is $1,130 per single use vial, which is 40% less than Lucentis’ list price.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Centene Plans to Sell Magellan Rx, PANTHERx Rare for $2.8 Billion

Centene Corp. has agreed to sell two of its pharmacy businesses, Magellan Rx and PANTHERx Rare, in separate transactions as part of the insurer’s decision last year to exit the PBM industry.

Prime Therapeutics, a PBM jointly owned by 19 Blue Cross and Blue Shield affiliates, is acquiring Magellan Rx for about $1.35 billion in a deal that’s expected to close in the fourth quarter, while a joint venture of the Vistria Group, General Atlantic and Nautic Partners is buying PANTHERx Rare for $1.45 billion in a deal that’s expected to be completed in the next two to four months.