Specialty Pharmacy

News Briefs: Centene Appoints New CEO Amid PBM Overhaul

Centene Corp. has named Sarah London as its new CEO after its longtime chief executive, Michael Neidorff, took a medical leave of absence ahead of his planned retirement. London, who was serving as Centene’s vice chairman, will take the helm immediately. In her previous management role, London was responsible for a “portfolio of companies independent of Centene’s health plans, designing differentiated platform capabilities, and delivering industry-leading products and services to third-party customers,” per a March 22 press release. Before coming to Centene, she worked for UnitedHealth Group’s venture capital arm, Optum Ventures, and its data solutions division, Optum Analytics. London’s appointment comes at a time when Centene is planning an overhaul of its PBM assets, with a request for proposal seeking an external vendor due this summer. The firm in recent months has paid millions of dollars to settle accusations by states that its PBM operations overcharged their Medicaid programs for prescription drugs. During Centene’s Feb. 8 conference call to discuss fourth-quarter and full-year financial results, London told analysts that “the strategy here is to outsource administrative PBM functions to an external partner, thereby allowing us to reduce our three PBM platforms down to one and to focus...[on] clinical member and provider engagement.”

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Optum Launches Specialty Platform Aimed at Better Care, Lower Costs

Optum, Inc. recently unveiled Optum Specialty Fusion, a specialty drug management solution that’s focused on streamlining care for people on those products and lowering medication costs. According to the company, which is part of UnitedHealth Group, the approach has the potential to deliver 17% total cost savings in health plans’ medical and pharmacy spend.

Providers are able to request prior authorization for specialty agents via a portal, which then compares treatment options, including their costs, across both the medical and the pharmacy benefit. According to the company, “informed by Optum data and insights, Specialty Fusion provides savings options such as preferred products, dosage management policies, best sites of care and additional cost-control levers such as available discounts and pharmacy networks.” The solution narrows down treatment options to the ones or one that “makes the most clinical and financial sense” and provides approval for that treatment in real time, regardless of the benefit the agent falls under. Optum maintains that this approach lessens “administrative hassle and results in an expected 50% faster access to therapy for patients, while lowering costs.” Specialty Fusion is available for large health plans.

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Adbry, Others Add to Growing Class Of Atopic Dermatitis Biologics

The FDA has approved a handful of drugs to treat atopic dermatitis recently. Among them is LEO Pharma Inc.’s Adbry (tralokinumab-ldrm), an interleukin-13 (IL-13) antagonist. According to a Zitter Insights survey, payers may take a bit of a restrictive approach in managing the drug. And with multiple new biologics approved for the condition and more potential agents coming onto the market, payers may impose more utilization management strategies on the therapeutic class as a whole, say industry experts.

On Dec. 28, the FDA approved Adbry for the treatment of people at least 18 years old with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis whose disease is not adequately controlled with topical prescription therapies or when those treatments are not advisable. The decision made it the first biologic that LEO Pharma has launched in the U.S. Recommended dosing is an initial dose of 600 mg via four 150 mg subcutaneous injections and then 300 mg every other week.

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Magellan Rx, Zipline Will Offer Drone Delivery of Specialty Drugs

Magellan Health’s PBM, Magellan Rx Management, recently unveiled a partnership with Zipline that will deliver prescription medications, including specialty drugs, to patients’ homes through the use of autonomous aircraft. The program will provide convenience to customers, maintains Mostafa Kamal, CEO of Magellan Rx Management, as well as reduce emissions compared with traditional delivery methods.

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Specialty Pharmacies Can Tackle SDOH Issues, Boost Adherence

Social determinants of health (SDOH), which researchers have suggested account for up to 80% of health outcomes, can also complicate medication adherence, which can be particularly challenging for people taking specialty drugs. Specialty pharmacies are uniquely suited to address these issues and provide the support and resources that their patients need to overcome barriers to effective treatment, industry experts tell AIS Health, a division of MMIT.

According to the Healthy People 2030 initiative from HHS’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, SDOH “are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.” These factors can be grouped into five areas:

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Optum Aims to Cut Specialty Spend With Management Tool

UnitedHealth Group’s Optum division recently unveiled an analytics-fueled medication management system aimed at tackling rising costs in the specialty drug market. The company says the new product, known as Specialty Fusion, has the capability to generate significant savings while reducing administrative burden for prescribers.

Positioned as a solution for commercial health plans, Specialty Fusion is designed to integrate medical and pharmacy benefit data into a single point-of-service management system. According to Optum, the Specialty Fusion system differs from other solutions on the market because it provides “a full integration” of medical and pharmacy benefits. The system incorporates various cost determinants at the point of care, such as available rebates, lower cost sites of care and manufacturer assistance programs, in addition to a carousel of more affordable drug therapies.

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Specialty Pharma Is Top of Mind for PBM Execs in Earnings Calls

While the cost-saving potential of biosimilars was an overarching theme as the major PBMs’ parent companies discussed second-quarter 2021 earnings, “specialty” was the buzzword during the most recent round of conference calls regarding fourth-quarter and full-year 2021 financial results.

“I would definitely say that the specialty [pharmacy] and home delivery business are contributing to earnings and our margin,” said Heather Cianfrocco, CEO of UnitedHealth Group-owned PBM OptumRx, during a Jan. 19 call with analysts.

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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.

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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.

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Two More Accelerated Approval Indications Are Being Pulled

Within the span of one week, Secura Bio, Inc. has revealed that it will withdraw one oncology drug from the U.S. market, as well as an indication for another oncolytic. The FDA had given both accelerated approval. The moves come amid growing scrutiny of that approval pathway, and they mark the ninth and 10th oncology indications and/or drugs taken off the U.S. market since December 2020.

Secura Bio said on Nov. 30 that it will withdraw the new drug application for Farydak (panobinostat). The FDA granted the capsule accelerated approval on Feb. 23, 2015, for the drug in combination with Takeda Pharmaceuticals U.S.A., Inc.’s Velcade (bortezomib) and dexamethasone for the treatment of people with multiple myeloma who have received at least two regimens, including Velcade and an immunomodulatory agent. That indication is the only one the drug has in the U.S. The company said it will continue to market the drug in other areas in which it is approved.

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