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Medco report shows growth in specialty Rx

BY Alaric DeArment

FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. —Consumers have been switching en masse to generic and OTC drugs to cope with difficult economic conditions, but growth in drugs used to treat complex illnesses and health conditions has helped push branded drug spending growth to its highest level in five years, according to a report released last month by one of the country’s largest pharmacy benefit managers.

The “2009 Medco Drug Trend Report,” which measures year-over-year prescription-drug spending growth among the company’s clients, showed that prescription-drug spending growth was 3.3% last year, thanks largely to higher spending on specialty drugs.

Specialty drugs—expensive, branded biotech and pharmaceutical drugs used to treat such diseases and conditions as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, organ transplants and HIV that require regimens tailored to individual patients and extra care in the supply chain—accounted for 60% of that growth. According to the report, removing them from the total drug trend would reduce that figure to 1.3%, even though generic drugs accounted for more than 64% of all prescriptions dispensed.

“New products and the absence of a regulatory approval process for lower-cost generic versions of specialty drugs have fueled spending growth in this category,” said a Medco statement coinciding with the report.

Most specialty drugs are expensive biologics that treat relatively rare conditions and lack cheaper competitors on the market. The top 15 drugs ranked by U.S. sales for 2008 listed in the IMS Health figures included the rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis drug Enbrel (etanercept) by Amgen and Wyeth; Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade (infliximab), which treats the same conditions; and Amgen’s Neulasta (pegfilgrastim), designed to fight cancer. Likewise, IMS’ list of the top 15 therapeutic classes measured by U.S. sales included monoclonal antibodies, erythropoietins and biologics used to treat arthritis. None, however, are included in the lists of the top 15 drugs or therapeutic classes ranked according to dispensed prescriptions.

“Given that specialty drugs are five times to 100 times the cost of traditional pharmaceuticals, and these drugs are growing in terms of patient use because of new treatments for diseases previously untreated, new treatments for diseases previously treated with less-than-effective medicines, and more patients with targeted diagnoses gaining access to these drugs than previously, the growth rate of specialty drugs relative to the total growth rate in pharmaceutical use is considerably larger,” Health Strategies Group research director for specialty pharmacy management Howard Flushman told Drug Store News.

Flushman, who said he considered Medco’s report reflective of overall industry trends, cited an IMS Health study at the end of last year that reported specialty drugs accounted for about 25% of the total U.S. pharmaceutical market in terms of revenue dollars, though his firm expected that number to reach 29% by 2011.

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Kroger declares quarterly dividend

BY Michael Johnsen

CINCINNATI The Kroger Co. announced that its board of directors declared a quarterly dividend of 9 cents per share to be paid on Sept. 1 to shareholders of record at of the close of business on Aug. 14.

Kroger, one of the nation’s largest retail grocery chains, employs more than 326,000 associates, who serve customers in 2,475 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states.

On Thursday, the company announced that its president and COO Don McGeorge was retiring. McGeorge has been replaced by W. Rodney McMullen.

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Walgreens to test diabetes care model

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK Walgreens continues to flesh out its revamped strategy to be the nation’s most convenient and accessible provider of pharmacy and health-and-wellness services.

 

The latest plank in that platform is its plan to test a pharmacy-driven outreach and support program for patients with diabetes.

 

Diabetic-care services and product presentations are nothing new in the nation’s chain and independent drug stores; every pharmacy leader knows that diabetes is a major, (often undiagnosed) health challenge and a “gateway” disease that usually subjects its sufferers to a slew of other related conditions involving the circulatory system, the skin and other organs. It’s also no secret that diabetics generate far more in annual drug store sales to treat these related conditions.

 

What makes Walgreens’ pilot program worthy of notice are two things.

 

 

First, with some 6,800 retail pharmacies, 350 in-store and worksite clinics and a network of specialty pharmacies across the United States, the company wields enormous potential power in the healthcare marketplace. If it expands its fledgling diabetes pilot beyond the test stage, it has thousands of “points of care” through which it could offer diabetes support programs and other disease management offerings. It’s a huge potential resource to offer diabetic patients and their employer-based or government-sponsored health plans, not to mention those patients’ overburdened, time-constrained primary care doctors.

 

 

Second, Walgreens is very deliberately positioning its diabetes care offering as a part of a much broader, integrated healthcare platform that links patients in the program to all the company’s health-and-wellness capabilities, said Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson. And it dovetails neatly with the Obama administration’s call for “more preventive care and better access,” in the words of Walgreens’ top manager.

 

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