PHARMACY

Millenium takes a long-term view on expansion

BY Allison Cerra

BOSTON Biotechnology company Millennium Pharmaceuticals said that it has taken a less intense approach to bidding for experimental drugs, Reuters reported.

Millennium, which makes cancer drug Velcade, said Thursday that although its shareholders keep it on a longer leash, it will not destroy its focus on the value of the company, rather than trying to expand when it is impossible or unnecessary. “One of our strategies is to look outside to accelerate growth,” said Deborah Dunsire, Millennium’s chief executive, at the Reuters Health Summit in New York. “But our larger shareholders want us to stay religiously focused on being able to return value after we’ve paid for the assets.”

Last year’s bidding war with fellow biotechnology company Genzyme Corp. caused Millennium to intently concentrate on other things, including its pipeline of experimental products and its partnerships.

Meanwhile, Dunsire said the company has talked to several potential partners about MLN1202, its experimental antibody designed to reduce a protein that evidence suggests is related to coronary artery disease. While there no solid proof that elevated C-reactive protein directly contributes to an increased risk of heart disease, Dunsire said, the Food and Drug Administration would not approve the drug just because it reduces the protein.

Other companies involved in developing drugs for cardiovascular disease, however, could find it a very valuable tool and potentially a product in its own right. “We have taken this forward to determine whether it is an interesting avenue to explore,” Dunsire told Reuters.

For now, the company is expanding sales of Velcade, which is being tested in multiple combinations to determine its function when pooled with other drugs, Dunsire said. “We’re very optimistic we’ll get good growth in 2008. We’ve never looked at this as a zero-sum game.”

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PHARMACY

Walgreens offers customers free help with Medicare plans

BY Drew Buono

DEERFIELD, Ill. Today marks the beginning of the open enrollment for Medicare Part D plans. It will last from now until Dec. 31 and will allow seniors to pick which plan will be best for him/her.

Walgreens is helping its customers out yet again this year, by offering free information about the plans. The information is given out by, pharmacists enter a list of a patient’s medications and the computer prints out information that gives a detailed list of plans and estimated annual costs including premiums and co-pays, coverage through the “doughnut hole”, savings with generics versus brand name drugs and 90-day supply allowances. This system also allows pharmacists to ask a few questions to determine whether someone may qualify for the Extra Help subsidy, where they pay lower co-payments.

“We understand this decision can be overwhelming, so we are working to make sure people don’t miss out on significant savings because they don’t know how to evaluate their options,” said Kermit Crawford, Walgreens senior vice president of pharmacy services. “We want seniors to know there’s a plan out there that will work for them, and we can help them find it.”

For more information on the personalized report and Medicare Part D counseling services available at Walgreens, contact your local store or go to Walgreens.com.

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NACDS reaches out to presidential hopefuls, elevating industry’s profile with new campaign

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores is launching a new outreach and educational effort to Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in an effort to enlist their involvement in and support of community pharmacy.

The first salvo in that new campaign is an open letter to all the presidential hopefuls, published as a full-page ad in today’s edition of The Washington Post. The letter, on NACDS letterhead, is a kickoff to a broad effort to emphasize the value of retail pharmacy to patients and the health care system. It seeks a partnership between the organization and presidential aspirants in their search for solutions to the nation’s increasingly expensive and challenging health care puzzle.

In its open letter, NACDS points out that “there is a community pharmacy, on average, within 2.36 miles of any resident in the United States,” and that “pharmacists are exceptionally accessible and convenient health care providers.

NACDS urges the candidates to “come to a point when government action reflects the health-boosting and money-saving value of medication management, and stops devaluing the services of those who are best equipped to provide it.

“Given the primacy of the issue of health care, campaigning for nomination and election requires a campaign for quality, affordability and accessibility of care,” the group adds. “Let’s work together to unleash the power of community pharmacy in a pro-patient platform.”

NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson announced the outreach effort today at a health care forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We reached out to the presidential candidates today because health care is clearly the major domestic policy issue on the national stage,” he told Chamber members. “With state and federal governments making nearly half of all healthcare payments in the U.S., we want to be part of the health care vision of the future for public payers. But our scope is much larger than that: we want to engage public and private payers and all strategic healthcare stakeholders.”

In addition, said NACDS’ chief executive, “We also reached out to the presidential candidates because we believe that government needs to think anew about the health-boosting and money-saving value of the role of the community pharmacist in medication management. At the same time, government needs to stop devaluing their services.”

In line with the kickoff of the new outreach campaign, Anderson also unveiled a new report from Comstock Consulting Group, LLC, which outlines the value of pharmacist-delivered patient-care services to health plan payers and other stakeholders. The report, based on a survey of health plan payers, was conducted for NACDS’ Value of Pharmacy Committee with support from drug maker Sanofi-Aventis.

“The objective,” he said, “was to identify insights on how we can develop pharmacist-delivered services that are recognized and valued, and ultimately improve the quality of patient care.”

The report cites the need for collaboration between pharmacists, physicians and other health care stakeholders to improve patients’ prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, and notes that “community pharmacy needs to define its future role as a service provider as well as a product provider.”

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