Hu­mana spells out its con­di­tion­al Ex­ondys 51 cov­er­age pol­i­cy — strings at­tached

Hu­mana’s de­ci­sion to cov­er Sarep­ta’s $SRPT con­tro­ver­sial Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy drug Ex­ondys 51 (eteplirsen) comes with some thick strings at­tached to it.

In a new cov­er­age pol­i­cy post­ed at the big in­sur­er, Hu­mana says that it will on­ly pro­vide cov­er­age for the $300,000-plus ther­a­py pro­vid­ed pa­tients are still am­bu­la­to­ry, con­tin­ue to prove that they re­main able to walk and meet the cri­te­ria for pa­tients who may ben­e­fit from an Ex­on 51-skip­ping drug.

Un­der con­di­tions for cov­er­age, Hu­mana notes: “The mem­ber re­mains am­bu­la­to­ry (e.g. able to walk with as­sis­tance, not wheel­chair de­pen­dent).”

Trans­la­tion: Any pa­tient who con­tin­ues to de­te­ri­o­rate to the point that they re­quire a wheel­chair will no longer be cov­ered.

That pol­i­cy cov­er­age de­ci­sion fol­lows An­them’s ver­dict that it won’t cov­er the drug be­cause in their view it re­mains ex­per­i­men­tal, even though the FDA has ap­proved it for mar­ket­ing. Oth­er big in­sur­ers have said that they will cov­er it, but have not yet post­ed their con­di­tions.

Janet Wood­cock

Janet Wood­cock’s de­ci­sion to over­rule the point­ed ob­jec­tions of the re­view team as well as se­nior-lev­el col­leagues — wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed in the DMD com­mu­ni­ty that fought for this drug — con­tin­ues to draw heavy crit­i­cism in some cir­cles. Ear­li­er this week two FDA pol­i­cy ex­perts fret­ted over the “wor­ri­some mod­el” that the agency had en­dorsed in back­ing eteplirsen for an ap­proval, urg­ing a fresh look at how sim­i­lar drugs backed by pa­tient ad­vo­cates ahead of con­vinc­ing da­ta should be han­dled in the fu­ture, in­clud­ing a sug­ges­tion to make them avail­able with­out al­low­ing a prof­it. In­side the FDA, mean­while, John Jenk­ins has been ea­ger to sug­gest that that Sarep­ta was a once-off, with all the same tra­di­tion­al de­mands on ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty da­ta still in place.

That con­tro­ver­sy is now spilling over in­to the pay­er com­mu­ni­ty, and some clear­ly don’t like the idea of cov­er­ing a drug that some be­lieve re­mains ex­per­i­men­tal, re­gard­less of the FDA’s de­ci­sion.

Jef­feries’ Gena Wang, who bet against an ap­proval, says she wasn’t sur­prised by the de­ci­sion. And more such con­di­tion­al poli­cies may ap­pear. Her note in­clud­ed:

Re­call we had pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed that pay­ers ranked ev­i­dence of clin­i­cal ben­e­fit high­er than FDA ap­proval sta­tus and in­de­pen­dent analy­sis would be like­ly re­quired. Hu­mana’s de­ci­sion to lim­it cov­er­age with­in am­bu­la­to­ry pts is al­so in-line with our ex­pec­ta­tions of ad­di­tion­al re­stric­tions based on clin­i­cal tri­al de­mo­graph­ics (am­bu­la­to­ry pts with base­line age 7-10). Fur­ther­more, the 6 month ini­tial ap­proval pe­ri­od and the re­quire­ment for pts to re­main am­bu­la­to­ry for con­tin­u­al treat­ment, al­so echo the feed­back we re­ceived from pay­ers on pos­si­ble con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing of drug ef­fi­ca­cy. Among oth­er large pay­ers, Aet­na plans to con­duct a full clin­i­cal re­view (ac­cord­ing to Reuters), Unit­ed (via our com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a spokesper­son) have not­ed their in­ter­est in cov­er­ing the drug with a pri­or au­tho­riza­tion (de­tails undis­closed) and Cigna has con­firmed in­ter­est in pro­vid­ing cov­er­age (via email to Bloomberg). Ex­press Scripts al­so has plans to con­duct a full clin­i­cal re­view but de­tails are un­known.

Spe­cial re­port: Meet 20 ex­tra­or­di­nary women who are su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D

Even though many biopharma leaders have come together in recent years to address its gender gap, the consensus is clear: We still have a long way to go.

Companies this year were 2.5 times more likely than last year to have a diversity and inclusion program in place, according to a recent BIO survey, but women are still largely absent from executive roles. Getting women to enter the industry isn’t the problem — studies show that they represent just under half of all biotech employees around the world. But climbing through the ranks can be challenging, as women still report facing stereotypes, and, unfortunately, harassment.

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Op­ti­miz­ing Oral Drug De­liv­ery us­ing Zy­dis® Oral­ly Dis­in­te­grat­ing Tablet Tech­nol­o­gy to Ad­dress Pa­tient Chal­lenges

KEY POINTS

Patients prefer oral dosing, but swallowing tablets can be a challenge for many patients.
The Zydis® orally disintegrating tablet (ODT) platform addresses challenges associated with oral dosing, expanding benefits for patients and options for healthcare providers.
A strong growth trajectory is expected for ODTs given therapeutic innovation and continued technology development.

Many patients prefer conventional tablets for the administration of medications, but some geriatric and pediatric patients and those with altered mental status and physical impairments find swallowing tablets to be difficult. Orally disintegrating tablets (ODTs), which dissolve completely without chewing or sucking, offer a patient-friendly dosage form for the administration of small-molecule drugs, peptides and proteins. With the potential for multiple sites of drug absorption, often faster onset action for the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and potentially greater bioavailability, ODTs are an attractive option for drug developers considering first-to-market formulations or product line extensions of existing drugs with compatible API. In this report, we look at how innovation in the industry-leading Zydis ODT platform is expanding oral formulation options and bringing benefits to patients.

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Geoffrey Porges (SVB Leerink)

The 2022 wave com­ing? Top an­a­lyst says Big Phar­ma will have more than $1T avail­able to sat­is­fy its grow­ing ap­petite for biotech M&A

All through this year you could practically feel the frustration of the biotech investor class as M&A activity continued to drag behind expectations — or desires. Buyouts of public companies provide the essential juice for keeping stocks lively, and there’s been a notable lack of juice in 2021.

So is all that about to change, big time?

SVB Leerink’s Geoffrey Porges, a longtime student of biotech M&A, thinks so. In a lengthy analysis he put out last week, Porges totted up the cash flow of the major pharmas and determined that there was a good long list of industry buyers who would have around a half trillion dollars of cash to play with in 2022. Leverage that up with added debt and you could get that deal cache to $1.6 trillion.

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Mar­ket­ingRx Matchup: How Ab­b­Vie and Bio­haven ads rank in head-to-head mi­graine chal­lenge

Are you ready to rumble? DTC brands that is. MarketingRx is launching a new monthly feature today called MarketingRx Matchup. We’re pitting two pharma brands’ DTC advertising in the same therapeutic category against each other to find out what consumers and patients really think.

Market research company Leger is handling the polling and analysis each month, and I’ll be writing up the results — along with my own take — inside MRx on the first Tuesday of the month.

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Wendy Lund, Organon chief communications officer

Q&A: Organon chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Wendy Lund talks about the Mer­ck spin­off, women’s health and why it mat­ters

One of Wendy Lund’s earliest jobs was head of marketing at Planned Parenthood. As the youngest person on its management team, she introduced them to emerging new technologies, and in return, she learned the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

Now as chief communications officer at Organon, the women’s health company recently spun off by Merck, Lund is keeping that point top of mind. That’s in part because women’s health hasn’t been a spotlight therapy area for Big Pharma in years. Several companies have spun off, sold or at least considered selling women’s health assets to focus on “core” products.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er re-ups pneu­mo­nia ads as Mer­ck threat looms; Re­al Chem­istry founder CEO Jim Weiss steps back

Every autumn, leaves fall from the trees and people start holiday shopping – and for the last few years Pfizer debuts a new “Know Pneumonia” awareness TV ad. This year the commercial, launched a week ago, features different people who talk about why they got vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. Actors portray a young female firefighter with asthma, a mechanic with heart disease and an older woman with her grandchild. A Pfizer spokesperson declined comment on the latest iteration of the long-running campaign.

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Klick Health agency employees appear in its annual holiday greeting video with this year's theme to #SpreadJoy (via Klick Health)

Klick Health hands out $100 bills in an­nu­al hol­i­day greet­ing that’s turned in­to de­fault re­cruit­ing tool

Editor’s Note: For more news, analysis and exclusive coverage from the marketing beat, subscribe to the Endpoints MarketingRx weekly report in your reader profile.

What would you do with $100 and the simple instruction to “spread joy?” That’s what pharma and healthcare agency Klick Health asked its employees as part of its annual holiday greeting for clients, friends and future recruits.

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Warren Huff, Reata CEO

FDA slams Reata's kid­ney drug as in­ef­fec­tive ahead of ad­comm meet­ing

The FDA on Monday offered an overwhelmingly negative opinion on Reata Pharmaceuticals’ potential drug to slow the loss of kidney function in those with the rare disease Alport syndrome, according to briefing documents released ahead of an advisory committee meeting Wednesday.

The agency’s review team said it “does not believe the submitted data demonstrate that bardoxolone is effective in slowing the loss of kidney function in patients with AS and reducing the risk of progression to kidney failure.” Originally developed as a cancer drug, bardoxolone was later scuttled by Reata almost a decade ago as a chronic kidney disease drug due to deaths in a Phase III trial.

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No­var­tis pe­ti­tions FDA to block 18 gener­ic com­peti­tors for its megablock­buster heart drug un­til 2024

Novartis is looking to milk one of its most prized possessions a little while longer without any generic competition, mostly because of a newly approved use that the Big Pharma won earlier this year for its megablockbuster heart drug Entresto.

In addition to battling (and winning) litigation last month to block a handful of Indian generics from entering the market early alongside Entresto, the company last week petitioned the FDA to try to stop a total of 18 Entresto generics from launching before 2024 at the earliest.