Ambassador-at-Large Deborah Birx giving a speech from a podium with an American flag and PEPFAR banner in the background

One of the Biggest Public Health Initiatives in History: PEPFAR and HIV

By Daniel Aaron

In October, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted a conference of world-leading experts in HIV/AIDS to discuss one of the biggest public health successes in history: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR was launched in 2003 in response to a burgeoning global epidemic of HIV. The program offered $2 billion annually, rising to about $7 billion in 2019, to surveil, diagnose, treat, and reduce transmission of HIV around the world.

PEPFAR prevented what could have become an exponentially growing epidemic. It is estimated to have saved more than 17 million lives and avoided millions of new HIV infections. As a result, the speakers at the conference were quick to extol the virtues of the program. Professor Ashish Jha called it an “unmitigated success”; Professor Marc C. Elliott named it a “historic effort”; Dr. Ingrid Katz described PEPFAR as “nothing short of miraculous.”

However, several undercurrents within the conference, as well as more explicit points made by several panelists, suggested the importance of enlarging the discussion beyond PEPFAR itself to include other policies that impact HIV and AIDS, and even other diseases.

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An adult hold the hand of a child with an IV

Teva to Resume Production of Critical Pediatric Oncology Drug: Too Little, Too Late

By Beatrice Brown

In my last blog post, I reflected on the ethical issues relevant to a critical shortage of a widely used pediatric oncology drug, vincristine. The shortage occurred after one of two pharmaceutical companies producing the drug, Teva, withdrew from the market, and the other, Pfizer, was unable to keep up with the demand due to manufacturing delays. On November 13, Teva announced that they would resume production of vincristine. The announcement stressed that they have decided to re-introduce the product because of the anticipated lack of “reliable single supply in the near term.” They also seemed to shift the moral blame from their decision, stating that “When Teva removed vincristine from the market earlier in the year there was no indication at all of a possible shortage” and that they assumed that Pfizer, which supplied 97% of the market, could easily absorb the demand. Furthermore, Teva emphasized that before discontinuing a product, they “always evaluate the need” for it, noting the caveat that they usually do not know supply challenges that other manufactures may be facing. However, as noted by Forbes, there will be no “short-term impact on the ongoing shortage” as a result of Teva’s decision, as their new supply of vincristine will not be available until early in 2020.

I raised the question in my last blog post on the shortage of vincristine of whether pharmaceutical companies have a moral obligation to continue producing a critical drug, even if the decision is announced in advance. I argued that it would have been more ethically permissible for Teva to have reduced production over time, eventually halting production, in order to alleviate the issue of manufacturing delays that Pfizer subsequently faced. I would like to further explore this question in light of Teva’s recent decision to resume production. Read More

A sick child lies in a hospital bed. An IV pole is visible in the foreground

Ethical Reflections on the Recent Critical Shortage of Pediatric Cancer Drug

By Beatrice Brown

Recently, news broke that there is a critical shortage of vincristine, a drug that is integral for treating pediatric cancers. According to the Children’s Oncology Group, Pfizer communicated that they were experiencing a shortage of the drug due to a manufacturing delay. Pfizer is now the sole supplier of vincristine in the United States after the other supplier, Teva Pharmaceuticals, ceased production of the drug after making a “business decision.” Although the FDA announced that deliveries of the drug should resume in late October, it is predicted that there will still be a supply shortage until December or January.

Vincristine is “the single most widely used chemotherapeutic in childhood cancer,” according to Yoram Unguru, MD, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai and Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore, Maryland. Unguru stated, “Nearly every child with cancer in the U.S. will receive multiple doses of vincristine over the course of their treatment. For some children with cancer, vincristine comprises one half of all chemotherapy administered.”

The shortage is even more critical given that there is no other manufacturer that can pick up the slack. According to Unguru, the shortage was predictable once Teva halted production. Given that there is no substitute for vincristine, doctors are in a tough position. Thus, there are two ethical issues I wish to explore here: 1) the issue of resource allocation/drug rationing; and 2) the moral obligations of pharmaceutical companies to patients. I will take up each of these issues in turn. Read More

close up of human eye

The Luxturna Debate: Why Ethics Needs a Seat at the Drug Pricing Table

By Clio Sophia Koller

Jack Hogan can now ride his bike home at dusk after an afternoon of playing with his friends. Is that childhood rite-of-passage worth $850,000?

Recently, the Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium convened by Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics and the Program on Regulation, Therapeutics, and Law (PORTAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital met to discuss the implications of Spark Therapeutics’ new gene therapy treatment—along with its staggering price tag.

Luxturna, a novel therapy approved by the FDA last year, treats a rare form of inherited blindness known as retinitis pigmentosa. The therapeutic agent targets the RPE65 gene, associated with the disorder, and is shown to improve vision in a population with progressive vision-loss and an inability to see in dim light. Read More

shopping trolley with medicine

Step therapy explained: An increasingly popular tool for cost control

News that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will allow Medicare Advantage programs to enact “step therapy” programs for drugs under Part B as part of an effort to combat rising drug prices has been making rounds in the health policy world recently.

Step therapy is used by all major private insurers and is aimed at curbing expenditures on expensive drugs. It requires that a patient to try a less expensive alternative treatment. Those who fail treatment with the less expensive drug would then be eligible for coverage of the more expensive treatment. Note that it is very similar to prior authorization, a ubiquitous policy tool in which a drug is approved for coverage only after ensuring certain clinical criteria are met.

What was once a relatively rare tool is now commonly used. I examined UnitedHealthcare’s list of step therapy drugs and there are now over 100 listings. This is an order of magnitude increase from the number of drugs listed just four years ago, when I first got interested in this issue.

Drugs listed for step therapy tend to be either new, extremely expensive therapies (e.g., 3rd-line biologics for rheumatoid arthritis, sofosbuvir for hepatitis C) or more expensive formulations of common drugs (e.g., extended release formulation of quetiapine).

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Are Ordeals a Viable Way to Improve Health Care Delivery?

By Thomas W. Feeley

We constantly hear that the American health care system is broken and badly in need of repair. Our system provides poor value in that our per capita spending is more than any other nation in the world and yet we do not have the best health outcomes.

For many years, incremental solutions have been brought forward as solutions to our health care delivery problem. Approaches such as using evidence-based guidelines, focusing on patient safety, requiring prior authorization of expensive procedures, making patients pay as customers, adopting lean, six-sigma, electronic records, and using care coordinators, to name just a few, have failed to solve the problem.

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REGISTER NOW! Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery

Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery
May 10-11, 2018 1:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA
 

Economic ordeals are interventions that deliberately make access to products or services more difficult in an effort to improve resource allocation. In this vein, making patients wait in long lines to schedule an appointment with a specialist might discourage patients with needs that could be met by less qualified personnel from taking up the specialist’s time, thus freeing up time for those with complex needs. Similarly, putting brand-name medications at the bottom of a long list of options on clinicians’ computers might encourage them to prescribe a generic brand listed closer to the top.

Recent research in development economics, behavioral economics, and health policy suggests that some economic ordeals could help target health resources to patients who are more likely to utilize these resources, without the regressive effects of co-pays and other forms of financial participation on the part of patients. However, making health care deliberately less accessible raises ethical challenges. Is it not the case that ordeals discourage utilization by patients with acute needs? Do these ordeals affect some disadvantaged populations disproportionately? And do deliberate obstacles to health resource utilization violate the human right to health?

This workshop will bring together leading scholars in economics, ethics, health policy, public health, medicine, sociology, and law to explore these questions.

This event is organized by Nir Eyal, PhD, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Anders Herlitz, PhD, Visiting Scientist, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Co-sponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

Register for and learn more about the event here!

REGISTER NOW! Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery

Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery
May 10-11, 2018 1:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA
 

Economic ordeals are interventions that deliberately make access to products or services more difficult in an effort to improve resource allocation. In this vein, making patients wait in long lines to schedule an appointment with a specialist might discourage patients with needs that could be met by less qualified personnel from taking up the specialist’s time, thus freeing up time for those with complex needs. Similarly, putting brand-name medications at the bottom of a long list of options on clinicians’ computers might encourage them to prescribe a generic brand listed closer to the top.

Recent research in development economics, behavioral economics, and health policy suggests that some economic ordeals could help target health resources to patients who are more likely to utilize these resources, without the regressive effects of co-pays and other forms of financial participation on the part of patients. However, making health care deliberately less accessible raises ethical challenges. Is it not the case that ordeals discourage utilization by patients with acute needs? Do these ordeals affect some disadvantaged populations disproportionately? And do deliberate obstacles to health resource utilization violate the human right to health?

This workshop will bring together leading scholars in economics, ethics, health policy, public health, medicine, sociology, and law to explore these questions.

This event is organized by Nir Eyal, PhD, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Anders Herlitz, PhD, Visiting Scientist, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Co-sponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

Register for and learn more about the event here!

REGISTER NOW! Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery

Ordeals in Health Care: Ethics and Efficient Delivery
May 10-11, 2018 1:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East (2036)
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA
 

Economic ordeals are interventions that deliberately make access to products or services more difficult in an effort to improve resource allocation. In this vein, making patients wait in long lines to schedule an appointment with a specialist might discourage patients with needs that could be met by less qualified personnel from taking up the specialist’s time, thus freeing up time for those with complex needs. Similarly, putting brand-name medications at the bottom of a long list of options on clinicians’ computers might encourage them to prescribe a generic brand listed closer to the top.

Recent research in development economics, behavioral economics, and health policy suggests that some economic ordeals could help target health resources to patients who are more likely to utilize these resources, without the regressive effects of co-pays and other forms of financial participation on the part of patients. However, making health care deliberately less accessible raises ethical challenges. Is it not the case that ordeals discourage utilization by patients with acute needs? Do these ordeals affect some disadvantaged populations disproportionately? And do deliberate obstacles to health resource utilization violate the human right to health?

This workshop will bring together leading scholars in economics, ethics, health policy, public health, medicine, sociology, and law to explore these questions.

This event is organized by Nir Eyal, PhD, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Anders Herlitz, PhD, Visiting Scientist, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Co-sponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University; the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

Register for and learn more about the event here!