PHARMACY

Semma Therapeutics developing stem cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes

BY Gisselle Gaitan

Semma Therapeutics has announced the completion of a highly oversubscribed $114 million Series B financing. Proceeds will be used to bring the company’s lead development program of encapsulated stem cell-derived islets, through proof-of-concept in patients while continuing exploration of other regenerative medicine therapeutics.

“We are now well positioned, between Semma’s scientific progress and this recent financing, to bring Semma’s lead therapeutic through clinical proof of concept in patients with Type 1 diabetes, while we expand into related areas and build a leading regenerative medicine company,” Mark C. Fishman, M.D., chairman of the board at Semma Therapeutics, said. “We’re delighted that this accomplished group of investors share our mission to cure insulin-dependent diabetes.”

The Cambridge, Mass.,-based company is working on developing transformative stem cell-driven therapies, focusing on a new treatment for Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, T1DM, patients who currently depend on insulin treatments. The technology developed protects its stem cell-derived beta, SC-beta, cells from the patient’s immune system. In preclinical studies, SC-beta cells demonstrated comparability to beta cells within human islets both in vitro and in vino, effectively controlling diabetes.

“I’m very pleased and impressed to see how far the science has progressed at Semma; what the team has accomplished from a development perspective on both the biology side and engineering side is remarkable,” Douglas Melton, Semma Therapeutics founder, and board observer said. “Semma’s scientists have very effectively dedicated themselves to systems that reliably generate cells indistinguishable from human pancreatic beta cells and to the invention of novel devices that are immunologically protective and surgically practical. We’re very encouraged and excited about the potential this program has for diabetic patients and their families.”

Eight Roads Ventures and Cowen Healthcare Investments are co-leading the financing, with investments coming from existing investors including MPM Capital, F-Prime Capital Partners and ARCH Venture Partners. In wake of this announcement, Semma also named Daniel Auerbach from Eight Roads and Kevin Raidy from Cowen to its board of directors.

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CVS Health offers pharmacists, prescribers real-time benefit info for Caremark members

BY David Salazar

CVS Health’s pharmacy benefits manager will now offer real-time information about patient-specific medication costs, the company announced Tuesday. CVS Caremark will offer visibility of costs and lower-cost alternatives at point of prescribing and at the pharmacy in an effort to cut down on dispensing delays and improve patient outcomes, the Woonsocket, R.I.-based company said.

“Patients often do not find out that the medication they were prescribed is not covered or has higher than expected out-of-pocket costs until they go to the pharmacy to pick up their prescription, which can result in patients not filling a prescription, non-adherence and, ultimately, higher downstream health care costs,” CVS Health executive vice president and chief medical officer Troyen Brennan said. “Making detailed, real-time benefit information available for our PBM members and their health care team, whether it's the doctor or the pharmacist, can help streamline the patient experience and improve health outcomes while also lowering costs for both the patient and the payer.”

For pharmacists at CVS Pharmacy, the patient information will be integrated directly into the existing workflow to allow for pharmacists to discuss lower-cost alternatives with CVS Caremark patients based on their formulary coverage. It also will make requesting a prescription change from prescribers easier, the company said. Starting 2018, CVS pharmacists will be able to see a CVS Caremark patient’s out-of-pocket costs for their medication. CVS Health said that this would facilitate better alignment with the member’s plan design and help them work to share additional cost savings information with patients whose costs are still a concern.

“Across the CVS Health enterprise, we are focused on providing patients with the most convenient access to affordable medications, and this innovation enables us to provide our PBM members and their health care providers with direct, easy access to real-time benefit information throughout the health care continuum whether they are at their physician's office or at the pharmacy," CVS Health executive vice president and COO Jonathan Roberts said. “No one else provides this level of member-specific actionable drug benefit information across so many points of care, which can help simplify and streamline the process of getting a patient on the most appropriate and affordable therapy and increase member engagement and satisfaction with their care.”

The new real-time information offering will also offer prescribers better visibility of a drug’s cost based on a patient’s coverage, with the opportunity to review as many as five clinically appropriate branded alternatives or generics that are specific to a patient’s formulary coverage. Pharmacists will also be able to see formulary alternatives with the option to find lower-cost alternatives through Caremark.com set to roll out in early 2018.

CVS Health noted that the real-time benefit information was possible through a functionality from Surescripts and builds on the organization’s use of electronic health records to support MinuteClinic providers and CVS Specialty’s care management programs.

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Takeda kicks off trial for Zika vaccine

BY David Salazar

Takeda Pharmaceutical is testing its Zika virus vaccine candidate, TAK-426, in a Phase 1 clinical trial. The Osaka, Japan-based company’s first trial for the vaccine comes 15 months after the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, awarded it a contract to develop it.

“We are pleased to reach this important milestone, which reflects our commitment to addressing the Zika threat, as well as the significant capabilities of Takeda’s global organization,” Takeda global vaccine business unit president Rajeev Venkayya said. “This progress could not have been possible without the ongoing support of, and collaboration with, BARDA.”

The World Health Organization notes that the virus has spread to more than 84 countries, territories or subnational areas, including the United States. Takeda said that initial data from the trial are expected in 2018, with the aim of beginning Phase 2 studies as soon as possible after if the data supports it.

Takeda said that in addition to its work on the Zika vaccine, it is undertaking vaccine programs to address such illnesses as dengue, norovirus and polio.

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