PHARMACY

Rotavirus vaccine benefits outweigh risks, data show

BY Alaric DeArment

GAITHERSBURG, Md. The benefits of vaccinating babies against rotavirus outweigh the theoretical risks of porcine circovirus found in rotavirus vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration and GlaxoSmithKline acknowledged at a recent advisory committee meeting.

The committee also discussed techniques to detect viruses and the implications of using them to test vaccines.

The drug maker presented data from investigations that it had conducted since material from porcine circovirus was found in the Rotarix vaccine, though according to the FDA and regulatory agencies in other countries, there is no evidence that the material poses a safety risk. Nevertheless, the FDA recommended in March that healthcare professionals in the United States temporarily suspend use of the vaccine.

Rotavirus is estimated to cause more than half a million childhood deaths from gastroenteritis each year around the world.

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Genentech, Evotec to collaborate on drug development

BY Alaric DeArment

HAMBURG, Germany U.S. biotechnology company Genentech and German drug maker Evotec hope to develop drugs using Evotec’s drug-discovery platform under a collaboration announced Monday.

Evotec will use its platform combined with its disease biology background to develop drugs for diseases nominated by Genentech. Evotec develops drugs for pain, cancer, inflammation and neurological conditions. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are proud that Genentech, one of the premier biopharmaceutical companies worldwide, has selected Evotec’s scientists and innovative drug-discovery platform to support their research efforts,” Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with Genentech’s scientists and achieving success together.”

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Study: Retail clinics save nonemergency patients money

BY Antoinette Alexander

INDIANAPOLIS Allergy sufferers can save money and receive quality, convenient care by skipping the emergency room and instead visiting a retail-based or urgent-care clinic, according to a recent study.

The study conducted by HealthCore, WellPoint’s outcomes research subsidiary, found that patients can save anywhere from $50 to $400 in out-of-pocket costs per visit by skipping the ER and heading to a retail health- or urgent-care clinic when they are unable to see their primary care physician.

“When possible, we recommend that our members visit their primary care physicians for non-emergency treatment,” stated Dr. Manish Oza, WellPoint medical director and emergency room physician. “If that’s not an option, in cases where patients are looking for treatments related to allergies and colds — such as sinus infections, sore throats, ear infections and bronchitis — it just makes more economic sense to go to a retail health clinic or urgent-care clinic.”

In addition, the study found that few patients who received care at retail health clinics or urgent-care clinics needed follow-up care for their ailment, implying that they received the appropriate level of care, stated John Barron, HealthCore director for health-plan research.

The study of members in WellPoint’s affiliated health plans in 14 states found that nearly 1-in-5 ER visits (19.4%) were for non-emergencies, including conditions such as upper respiratory infections, sore throats or urinary tract infections. This is during a time when ER visits have increased 31% in 2005 compared with 1995, and ER waits to see a physician have increased from 38 minutes in 1997 to 56 minutes in 2005, according to federal government statistics provided by WellPoint.

Bronchitis, one of the more expensive conditions to treat, cost $646 to treat in the ER, compared with $97 for an urgent-care visit and $54 for a retail health-clinic visit, according to the study. Average costs for ER visits for all conditions studied ranged from $441 for the ER to $98 for urgent care and $52 for retail care. These costs represent total costs, including the portion paid by the health plan member.

The study showed that for every member treated at retail health clinics, about 15 others are treated in the ER for the same conditions.

The study also looked at overall costs to treat individual episodes over a two-week period for ailments associated with allergy, cold and flu, along with conjunctivitis and urinary tract infections. In this case, ER episodes cost an average $500, while urgent care cost $150 and retail health clinic cost $90.

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