Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet SarpatwariCharlie LeeFrazer Tessema, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on pharmaceutical law and policy.

Below are the abstracts/summaries for papers identified from the month of April. The selections feature topics ranging from increases in Internet searches for hydroxychloroquine following promotional remarks by the President, to an evaluation of health gains from orphan drugs, to an assessment of clinical trials supporting new FDA drug approvals. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles can be found on our website.

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Photograph of a stack of magazines on a chair

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet Sarpatwari, Charlie Lee, Frazer Tessema, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues relevant to current or potential future work in the Division.

Below are the abstracts/summaries for papers identified from the month of July. The selections feature topics ranging from the price increases of protected-class drugs in Medicare Part D, to the impact of price regulation on the availability of new drugs in Germany, to the association between FDA advisory committee recommendations and agency actions. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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PhRMA Sues HHS (Again) For Trying To Expand 340B Discounts To Orphan Drugs

By Rachel Sachs

For all those who have been following the ongoing fight between pharmaceutical companies and HHS over the 340B Program’s coverage of orphan drugs (I know you’re out there), last week PhRMA filed a new complaint challenging HRSA’s interpretive rule on the subject under the APA. For all those who are not (but should be) paying attention to this battle, here’s what’s happening.

The 340B Program allows certain health care organizations (such as disproportionate share hospitals) to purchase drugs for their patients at significant discounts. The Affordable Care Act expanded the number and kind of organizations that can participate in the 340B Program, but it also added an exception stating that most of the covered organizations could not obtain 340B discounts for orphan drugs — or, as the statute puts it, for “a drug designated … for a rare disease or condition.” 42 U.S.C. § 256b(e).

The battle between PhRMA and HHS is over is whether this statutory exclusion applies to orphan drugs or orphan indications. There are many drugs which have received an orphan designation for certain indications but are also FDA-approved and prescribed more generally for non-orphan indications. In such a case, can a 340B facility purchase the drug at a discount if it is being prescribed for a non-orphan indication?  Read More

Clinical Trials of Primary Care Drugs: Could Smaller Be Better?

By Kate Greenwood

Cross-Posted at Heath Reform Watch

Lately it seems that each passing day brings another article about the cost of orphan drugs.  Earlier this week at FiercePharma, Tracy Staton reported that the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has asked Alexion Pharmaceuticals to justify the price of its drug Soliris which is, per Staton, “the most expensive drug in the world” at around $569,000 a year.  Specifically, NICE seeks “‘clarification from the company on aspects of the manufacturing, research and development costs’” of the drug.  According to Staton, this latest development in a review process characterized by “halting progress” is “a departure from NICE’s usual calculations, which typically focus on quality-of-life years and the like.”

Pushback by NICE and other payers notwithstanding, the orphan drug market is growing.  As I blogged about here, in 2013 EvaluatePharma estimated that “the worldwide orphan drug market is set to grow to $127 [billion], a compound annual growth rate of +7.4% per year between 2012 and 2018[,]” which “is double that of the overall prescription drug market, excluding generics, which is set to grow at +3.7% per year.”  In a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, venture-capital investors Robert Kocher and Bryan Roberts note that “more than half of the 139 drugs approved by the FDA since 2009 are for orphan diseases” and suggest that there is a risk of “systematically underinvesting in other important areas of medicine.”

Kocher and Roberts’ explain that one reason that orphan drugs attract investment is that their development costs are low.  The problem or potential problem of underinvestment in diseases like depression and diabetes could therefore be addressed, they contend, by bringing the cost of developing treatments for these common conditions in line with the cost of developing treatments for rare diseases.  And, they argue, one promising approach to doing so is to reduce clinical trial costs by reducing the size of clinical trials. Read More