PHARMACY

Medco report shows diabetes drugs lead spending growth

BY Drew Buono

FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. Medco Health Solutions has released a new report showing that diabetes treatments have become the leading driver of prescription drug spending growth, replacing lipid-lowering agents, which fell from the top spot after a decade reign, due to generic drugs cutting the cost of treating high cholesterol.

The report shows that despite continued growth in the use of cholesterol drugs, spending fell 8.5 percent in 2007 as usage of lower-cost generic versions of Pravachol and Zocor expanded in the marketplace, resulting in lipid-lowering medications experiencing the greatest spending decline of all drug categories. Meanwhile, spending on diabetes drugs increased 12 percent due to shifts toward higher-cost treatments, brand-name drug price inflation, and moderate growth in the number of patients receiving treatment.

While utilization of diabetes medications only increased a moderate 2.3 percent during 2007, the cost of diabetes treatments rose sharply as patients shifted to newer drugs. These recently introduced medications have advantages over older drugs since they are faster-acting and can help patients better maintain consistent blood sugar levels to prevent complications from the disease.

“The diabetes epidemic and the introduction of new products are reshaping prescription spending patterns,” said Medco chief medical officer Robert Epstein. “The number of people diagnosed with diabetes is increasing by about a million patients per year – meaning more people need complex drug therapies to control their blood sugar. While medications are critical for controlling the disease, many of these cases could have been prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes, such as diet or exercise.”

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Study finds more than half of Americans regularly take prescription meds

BY Alaric DeArment

FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. For the first time, a majority of Americans with health insurance have some kind of chronic health condition, and young people have experienced the largest increases.

According to research released Wednesday by Medco Health Solutions that examined the prescription claims of around 2.5 million Americans, 51 percent of insured Americans took prescription drugs to treat chronic health problems in 2007. While the elderly still constitute the largest demographic such medications, nearly half of women aged 22 to 44 and a third of men in the same age bracket were also using them. Men and women in that age group experienced a 20 percent increase in use of drugs to treat chronic conditions between 2001 and 2007.

Among men in the 20 to 44 age bracket, drugs to treat hypertension and cholesterol were among the top four, showing an increase in heart disease in this group. Nearly 30 percent of children aged 19 and younger also took chronic medications, mostly to treat asthma, allergies, depression and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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Avastin/Lucentis study may reverberate through industry

BY Drew Buono

NORWALK, Conn. According to IMS Health, a new clinical trial that began this year by a research institute may change the relationship between payers and the pharmaceutical industry, the Financial Times reported.

The National Eye Institute has sponsored a $16 million head-to-head trial of Genentech’s drugs Avastin and Lucentis. Lucentis is approved to treat age-related macular degeneration and Avastin is used to treat cancer but, both drugs are very similar and physicians have been using Avastin off-label for AMD.

The problem with the off-label use is the cost, as a single dose of Lucentis costs $2,000 while a bottle of Avastin can be split up to cost only $40-$75 per injection.

IMS argues that if CATT, the Institute’s study, shows Avastin to be as safe and effective for AMD as Lucentis, it may pave the way for an increasing number of payers to take comparative drug studies out of the hands of the pharmaceutical companies, especially as databases of patients make it much easier to conduct such tests.

But it warns that the move may create a disincentive for companies to study such areas, and creates untested areas of who would approve Avastin for AMD following a late-stage Phase 3 clinical trial which was conducted without any of the usual early-stage testing regulators usually require.

The study is expected to conclude in 2010 and has no involvement with Genentech.

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