Step­ping in­to the pric­ing de­bate, FDA chief Scott Got­tlieb pro­pos­es new re­im­burse­ment idea for an­tibi­otics

Scott Got­tlieb

In an at­tempt to make good on its promise to tack­le the su­per­bug prob­lem, the FDA trot­ted out a new idea to­day that it hopes will ad­dress the re­im­burse­ment catch-22 in­her­ent in the in­dus­try. Their idea? Treat drugs like soft­ware, hav­ing hos­pi­tals buy li­cens­es to an­tibi­otics in­stead of re­im­burs­ing on a per-use ba­sis.

Let’s set aside, for the mo­ment, that pric­ing is typ­i­cal­ly not a top­ic the FDA likes to weigh in on. Af­ter all, drug pric­ing is not un­der FDA’s di­rect purview and would re­quire some in­ter-agency col­lab­o­ra­tion with the likes of CMS. But wor­ries around the pace of in­no­va­tion in an­tibi­otics and oth­er an­timi­cro­bial drugs ap­pear to be dri­ving the FDA to ac­tion.

Brent Ahrens

In the agency’s state­ment Tues­day, FDA com­mis­sion­er Scott Got­tlieb ar­gued that the cur­rent drug re­im­burse­ment mod­el isn’t con­ducive to an­tibi­otics R&D. The more an­tibi­otics a physi­cian pre­scribes, the more mon­ey the drug­mak­er earns. But that’s a prob­lem con­sid­er­ing a grow­ing ef­fort to scale back the use of an­timi­cro­bials.

“When such drugs be­come avail­able, we try to use them spar­ing­ly, lest pathogens be­come over-ex­posed to a new mech­a­nism of at­tack and de­vel­op re­sis­tance to it,” Got­tlieb wrote. “So, providers have im­posed un­der­stand­able re­stric­tions on the use of such drugs. While this rep­re­sents re­spon­si­ble stew­ard­ship, it al­so means that a nov­el an­tibi­ot­ic may have a very lim­it­ed mar­ket. If prod­uct de­vel­op­ers know that they will not be able to re­coup their in­vest­ments, there may be re­duced in­cen­tive to in­vest the sig­nif­i­cant mon­ey need­ed to dis­cov­er and de­vel­op such a drug.”

Brent Ahrens, a Canaan part­ner with a long his­to­ry back­ing an­tibi­otics mak­ers like Iterum and Du­ra­ta, said so-called “ef­fec­tive stew­ard­ship” of these drugs is se­ri­ous­ly af­fect­ing ROI in this field.

“If one were to look at the launch­es of the last sev­er­al an­tibi­otics — or some of the ac­qui­si­tions done — very few have done well over the past 15 years,” Ahrens said. “All of that is re­lat­ed to stew­ard­ship and the price point. The in­cen­tive for us to do this just falls apart.”

Jeff Stein

Un­der the FDA’s new idea for re­im­burse­ment, hos­pi­tals and oth­er care fa­cil­i­ties could be re­im­bursed for li­cens­es to an­timi­cro­bials rather than a per-use ba­sis. With­in this mod­el, the hos­pi­tal sys­tems would pay a fixed li­cens­ing fee for ac­cess to the drug, which would of­fer them the right to use a cer­tain num­ber of an­nu­al dos­es.

“This is sim­i­lar to the way that soft­ware of­ten gets re­im­bursed, where in­sti­tu­tions pay a li­cens­ing fee for a fixed num­ber of in­stal­la­tions,” Got­tlieb’s state­ment reads. “We have been speak­ing with our coun­ter­parts at CMS as to whether such an ap­proach is fea­si­ble, whether it can be for­mu­lat­ed as a demon­stra­tion, and as a demon­stra­tion, whether it would have the in­tend­ed pub­lic health ben­e­fits.”

The FDA hopes that such a mod­el would pro­vide a pre­dictable re­turn on in­vest­ment and rev­enue stream for drug­mak­ers. It would al­so put the in­sti­tu­tions ful­ly in charge of stew­ard­ship of the meds.

Jeff Stein, the CEO and pres­i­dent of clin­i­cal-stage an­tibi­otics mak­er Cidara, tells me it’s en­cour­ag­ing to see the FDA tack­le the prob­lem, but he does won­der if the idea would work for hos­pi­tals.

“The ques­tion is — would hos­pi­tals em­brace it?” Stein said. “Will they be will­ing to pay for a drug up­front for a lim­it­ed num­ber of pa­tients?”

Ahrens said he’s al­so skep­ti­cal about how that would play out.

“Hos­pi­tals are re­luc­tant to pay for any­thing — un­der­stand­ably so — and it’s chal­leng­ing get­ting new prod­ucts in a hos­pi­tal,” Ahrens said. Pay­ing a larg­er sum up­front — when there are low-cost op­tions al­ready avail­able — may be a tough sell to acute care fa­cil­i­ties.

Still, both Ahrens and Stein are hap­py to see the FDA take on the re­im­burse­ment chal­lenge, as both con­sid­er it the biggest is­sue fac­ing the space. In­cen­tive pro­grams like QIDP and oth­ers stem­ming from the GAIN act have helped to fu­el in­no­va­tion in the in­dus­try over the past few years, but if com­pa­nies — and in­vestors — don’t get paid for their ef­forts, the space could slow its ef­forts, they said.

“I’d hate to see a cycli­cal ef­fect,” Ahrens said. “But with­out bet­ter re­im­burse­ment, there just won’t be a lot of new de­vel­op­ment.”

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

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