PHARMACY

Wal-Mart continues to expand its healthcare offerings

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK Nationwide big-box chain Wal-Mart is expanding its presence in the health-care industry.

Areas of expansion include electronic prescriptions, which it hopes to increase to 8 million by the end of the year, in-store clinics and additions to its program to sell generic drugs at a discount.

Wal-Mart began offering generic drugs for $4 in September 2006, and since then, other big-box stores and supermarket chains have launched similar programs. In may, the company began offering discounts on medications for women, such as $9 for a 30-day supply or $24 for 90 days worth of the generic version of Fosamax, an osteoporosis drug. “$4 prescriptions now represent approximately 40 percent of all filled prescriptions at Wal-Mart,” said John Agwunobi, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president and president of health and wellness.

Wal-Mart’s walk-in clinics, like most in-store clinics, are designed to treat minor conditions such as colds and ear infections. Wal-Mart has clinics at 79 stores—though this is small compared with CVS’ more than 400. The company, however, has already committed to opening 400 clinics in the next three years, and could have 2,000 by 2015 by contracting with local hospitals, according to one report.

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PHARMACY

Antibody drug found cost-effective against allergic asthma

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK A review of seven studies has found the antibody drug Xolair to be cost-effective in treating allergic asthma, according to a report published in the journal Allergy.

The report, by University of Washington researcher Sean Sullivan and Dr. F. Turk of Novartis Pharma showed that Xolair, Novartis’ brand name for omalizumab, showed the drug was cost-effective in treating allergic asthma for which common asthma medications were inadequate.

The studies also found some evidence that Xolair may not be as cost-effective in treating other forms of asthma.

Novartis and Genentech market Xolair in the U.S. Genentech reported U.S. sales of $472 million for the drug in 2007, according to Novartis financial data.

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PHARMACY

First DataBank settles lawsuit for $1 million

BY Drew Buono

BOSTON First DataBank, a provider of integrated databases of information about medications, has agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it conspired with McKesson to manipulate the average wholesale price of drugs.

The case, New England Carpenters Health Benefits Fund vs. First DataBank, filed in 2005, alleges that First DataBank and McKesson “wrongfully increased the so-called wholesale acquisition cost to AWP markup factor applied to numerous prescription pharmaceuticals through a scheme begun in late 2001 and 2002,” which meant that the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit made “substantial excess payments.”

First DataBank denies any wrongdoing or liability and “has valid and complete defenses to the claims asserted against [it] in the class action,” which it is settling to avoid the expense and inconvenience of further litigation, the settlement says.

The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, explicitly excludes government entities from joining the class action suit. The San Francisco Health Plan and the state of Connecticut have filed suits with similar charges that McKesson and First DataBank inflated the spread between WAC and AWP from 20 percent to 25 percent, costing state Medicaid and other health programs untold sums.

First DataBank is not named as a defendant in the two new lawsuits. McKesson continues to defend itself in all three cases.

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