Are Efforts To Curb High Drug Prices Really Stalled Amid Pandemic?
Read about the biggest pharmaceutical development and pricing stories from the past week in KHN's Prescription Drug Watch roundup.
State Legislatures Are Lapping The Federal Government On Drug Pricing — Even Amid The Coronavirus
Here in the nation’s capital, the consensus is that the coronavirus pandemic has quashed all hope of serious drug pricing reform, at least for the foreseeable future. But states around the country have enacted significant reforms over the last month, even while they were dealing with a crisis. Drug pricing advocates were dealt a serious blow in March when Congress wrapped the majority of its 2020 health care work into a coronavirus relief package, and included no mention of drug pricing at all. It was the unceremonious end to nearly a year of gridlock that kept Congress from passing a bipartisan drug pricing package championed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and members of the Trump White House. Now, Capitol Hill is virtually shuttered until at least May, and there’s little hope drug pricing reform will come up until after the November election. (Florko, 4/14)
Insurers And Pharma Alike Oppose Two Trump Drug Pricing Proposals
The Trump administration has proposed modest steps this year to promote biosimilar and generic medications, but each proposal has been met with staunch opposition from nearly all corners of the health care industry. The proposals are small and wonky: Under one, bonuses for insurers would be partially determined based on how often they encourage patients to use generic drugs; under another, insurers would be able to push patients toward lower-cost medicines by creating a new “tier” of medicines in their plan designs. (Florko, 4/10)
Opioid-Overdose Prescriptions May Go Unfilled Due To The Cost
Although naloxone is widely regarded as an effective antidote for reversing opioid overdoses, a new study suggests that the cost of the medication has dissuaded people from filling prescriptions. Among 5.2 million people who were prescribed an opioid painkiller, 12% were considered to be at a high risk for an overdose, but only 0.5% of them filled a prescription for naloxone. Meanwhile, the average out-of-pocket cost was nearly triple for an opioid, according to the study published in Drug Safety. (Silverman, 4/8)
Pharmacy Reimbursement Often Lags For Generics Undergoing Price Hikes
Of more than 4,300 instances in which pharmacies saw generic drug prices rise by 50% or more over a recent two-year period, the reimbursement from health plans and pharmacy benefit kept up with the price increases only 16% of the time, according to a new analysis. The findings underscore the fact that pharmacies are sometimes getting squeezed when their costs increase, which has contributed to an ongoing number of closures among retail pharmacies around the U.S. in recent years. (Silverman, 4/14)
The Wall Street Journal:
Coronavirus Fight Hinders Action Against Other Deadly Diseases
The coronavirus threat has suspended vaccination campaigns against many other diseases in the developing world, raising fears that other epidemics could surge in the poorest nations. With developing nations now engaged in commercial shutdowns and enforced social distancing measures, health services are pausing mass vaccination drives for polio, measles and other deadly diseases. Such campaigns risk spreading the new coronavirus, the World Health Organization warns. (Shah and Parkinson, 4/13)
Potential Coronavirus Drugs May Cost As Little As $1, Study Says
Potential coronavirus treatments could be made for as little as $1, well below their typical price tags in pharmacies, according to an analysis of nine drugs in clinical trials. If their promise is confirmed in ongoing studies, medicines for Covid-19, including hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump touted as a treatment, and Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir could be manufactured from $1 to $29 a course, a study published Friday in the Journal of Virus Eradication found. (Jason Gale, 4/10)
States Can Use The Coronavirus Response To Go After Insulin Price Gougers.
The COVID-19 health care crisis is spreading beyond just those with the virus. As millions of Americans lose their jobs, they also stand to lose the employer-provided health insurance they rely on for life-saving drugs. Without insurance, the costs of those drugs can skyrocket. Insulin alone can cost $12,000 a year. For the diabetics who will lack insurance during the crisis, insulin costs could outpace government assistance with catastrophic consequences: ballooning medical debt or, worse, an increase in deaths among those who cannot afford care. (Steinberg, 4/9)
The Wall Street Journal:
Biotech VCs Steer Around Covid-19 Obstacles
Biotechnology venture capitalists aim to continue launching new drug startups despite the disruptions imposed by the new coronavirus. Several biotech venture firms focus largely or entirely on founding startups instead of funding existing ones. By starting companies, VCs can secure significant ownership stakes in them and position themselves to make giant returns if the startup succeeds. (Gormley, 4/14)
Does Gilead Remdesivir Work On Covid-19? Is There A Drug?
Results from a study of Gilead Sciences Inc.’s experimental Covid-19 medicine are top-of-mind for Wall Street as cases surpass 1.35 million and deaths approach 76,000. With a potential vaccine more than a year away, Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir offers one of the nearest-term hopes for a treatment in the pandemic that’s sweeping across the globe and putting many countries, including most of the U.S., on lockdown. Results from late-stage studies out of China are expected this month with results from U.S. trials following in May. (Flanagan, 4/7)
Study Of AstraZeneca Cancer Drug Stopped Early For ‘Overwhelming’ Benefit
AstraZeneca halted a study of its lung cancer treatment Tagrisso after observing what the company called an “overwhelming” benefit, a result that could significantly expand the use of the blockbuster drug. The global trial, which enrolled nearly 700 patients, was slated to run for three years but stopped after about 12 months when an independent monitoring committee looked at the data and determined that Tagrisso had already bested placebo, the company said Friday. (Garde, 4/10)
Blackstone Invests Up To $2B In Alnylam, A Bet On The Cambridge Biotech
The private equity firm Blackstone Group is investing up to $2 billion in Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a big bet on the Cambridge biotech’s approach to developing drugs for genetic diseases and disorders that need better treatments. The deal, which was announced Monday, is anchored by Blackstone’s purchase of half the royalties owed to Alnylam on global sales of inclisiran, an experimental RNA interference drug for the treatment of high cholesterol. (Saltzman, 4/13)
Zai Lab Targets Blood Cancers In Deal With Regeneron
Shanghai’s Zai Lab (ZLAB) is adding a blood cancer drug to its pipeline through a licensing deal with the U.S. biotech giant Regeneron (REGN). Zai Lab will help develop and commercialize the bispecific antibody REGN1979 for the China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau market. Under the terms of the deal, the Chinese biotech is paying $30 million up front and potentially as much as another $160 million if the therapy meets certain regulatory and commercial milestones. (Chan, 4/13)
Dealmakers Look Beyond Coronavirus Crisis For M&A Opportunities
The race for treatments and a vaccine for Covid-19 has turned a spotlight on the health-care industry. Pharmaceutical giants are already teaming up with tiny biotechnology firms to develop experimental therapies for the virus, and Johnson & Johnson saw its shares surge after partnering with the U.S. government to work on an inoculation. While many companies are focused for the moment on maintaining drug supplies to stretched health-care systems, the crisis could throw up a wave of potential dealmaking, advisers said. “Health care is a sector that might have interesting opportunities as a result of this crisis and is one of the sectors that has had the least impact,” said Nestor Paz-Galindo, UBS Group AG’s head of M&A for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. (Balezou, Tse and Ahmed, 4/7)
The Wall Street Journal:
Cerevance Banks $45 Million For Neurological Drug Development
Biotechnology startup Cerevance Inc. has secured $45 million to hunt for treatments for neurological diseases by studying samples of brain tissue gathered from deceased donors world-wide. (Gormley, 4/14)