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Drug pricing conversation continues
Drug pricing amendment added to FDA user fee reauthorization bill
An amendment introduced by Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Susan Collins (R-ME) focused on getting generic drugs to the market faster and increasing competition in the generic drug marketplace has been added to the FDA drug user fee reauthorization bill. The bill was approved by the Senate HELP Committee Thursday. Passing the user fee reauthorization bill is important to continue collecting fees from drug industry leaders to pay FDA employees and avoid delays in the drug review process. If the bill passes the full Senate, it would be their first action against rising drug prices this year.
Express Scripts works to help uninsured
Pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts, is partnering its InsideRx subsidiary with GoodRx, a technology company offering discounts on generic drugs, to provide drug discounts to individuals without insurance or those enrolled in high deductible plans. Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries will not be eligible for these discounts due to agreements drug companies already have with the government programs. Critics note the program does not address the issue of list prices being set and increasing to unobtainable levels and question whether the savings obtained by the PBM are passed along to consumers. Of note, this program may also expand Express Scripts’ customer base, needed now that Anthem has decided not to renew its contract in 2020.
Cost of drugs continues to increase
Prices for prescription drugs increased by 8.8 percent in 2016, the fourth consecutive year with an increase of more than 8 percent. Specifically, prices increased by 12.9 percent for brand drugs, 0.3 percent for generics and 7.9 percent for specialty drugs. Analysts predict the first quarter of 2017 will also outpace inflation, with prices increasing by 2.3 percent.
Trump considers cuts to drug czar funding
President Trump revealed plans to cut the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent in 2018. These cuts would layoff as many as 33 employees and eliminate grant programs, such as the Drug-Free Communities support program. Trump has expressed views that many of these programs are repetitive of programs at the federal and state levels. This plan has evoked bipartisan concern amid the current opioid epidemic and questions of how these proposed cuts align with Trump’s promise made on the campaign trail to address the public health crisis.
House committee investigates drug distributors and DEA
The House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to the DEA and three key drug distributors. The letters inquire why the government agency’s drug enforcement efforts have slowed and question why distributors have shipped millions of painkillers to West Virginia, a state with the highest drug overdose rate in the country. All parties have until June 8 to provide answers about their roles and responsibilities in combating the epidemic.
Spike in hepatitis C linked to heroin use
The rate of new cases of hepatitis C increased by 300 percent between 2010 and 2015, due to the increase of heroin use and other illegal injectable drugs. As the price of heroin drops compared to prescription opioids, rates of hepatitis C infection rise. According to the CDC, improving access to clean needles and limiting the barriers for Medicaid beneficiaries to receive treatment can slow the spread of the disease.
Sanofi participates in social contract
Similar to other pharmaceutical companies, Sanofi has pledged to limit price increases for its drugs to single digits. The social contract of limiting price increases to less than 10 percent was first introduced by Allergan’s CEO, but Sanofi differs in that it will keep price increases below the projected National Health Expenditure growth rate of 5.4 percent for 2017. Sanofi’s policy also incorporates insight from payers and advocacy groups on setting drug list prices. Critics point out these increases still compound to significant increases over time.
PhRMA eliminates 22 members
In an effort to update its image, PhRMA has revoked the membership of 22 members – many who were known for aggressive pricing tactics – and instituted new membership criteria. The new policy is an effort to cultivate a membership focused on innovation rather than profits made from significant drug price increases. Members are now required to invest a minimum of 10 percent of their budget and spend at least $200 million per year over three years on research and development.
White House biomedical meeting didn’t address drug pricing
NIH leaders and biotech executives met at the White House this week to defend government-sponsored research after the president’s budget proposal sought to cut NIH funding by $6 billion in 2018. The discussion focused on the future of research and opportunities in biomedicine. But despite Trump’s previous focus on the issue, the price of prescription drugs did not come up, possibly due to the presence of major drug companies at the meeting.
Opioid commission announcements
President Trump announced his appointments to the bipartisan opioid commission. They include Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC), Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA), former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and psychobiologist Bertha Madras.
New ALS drug
The FDA approved the drug, edaravone, for treatment of ALS. This is only the second drug approved in the United States and the first in nearly two decades. Edaravone reduces the rate of functional decline by about a third. The drug should be available in the U.S. in August and is expected to retail for more than $1,000 per infusion