Coronavirus News Roundup: Remdesivir Data Announced, DIR Reform Urged Amid Pandemic

May 1, 2020

Here's a roundup of this week's coronavirus-related news.

As the United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, health care workers and researchers continue to keep Americans protected and informed.   

Here’s a roundup of the latest coronavirus-related news:

Survey: Americans Worried About COVID-19 Drug Shortages

Americans are increasingly concerned about drug shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey by prescription savings service SingleCare.

Additionally, although the majority of Americans indicated they would receive a COVID-19 vaccine, many responded that they would not receive a vaccination.

Thirty percent of Americans surveyed by SingleCare said they are concerned about drug shortages, whereas 24% said they are worried about being able to afford medications, according to updated data provided to Drug Topics®.

SingleCare, which surveyed more than 1000 adults nationwide on April 10, also noted a 227% increase in demand for hydroxychloroquine sulfate from February to March 2020. The controversial anti-malaria drug, which was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA, has soared in price due to high demand.

Because of their concern over drug shortages, 22% of Americans are stocking up on prescription medications and 23% are stocking up on OTC drugs, SingleCare found. Plus, a third (33%) of the population is extending their prescription refills for longer periods of time.

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Clinical Trial Updates: Early Data on Remdesivir for Severe COVID-19

New clinical trial updates on remdesivir as a potential treatment for COVID-19 were announced this week.

Remdesivir, a nucleoside analogue prodrug, is being looked at as a potential therapy for the virus, but there is currently no evidence supporting its efficacy and safety in this setting.

Although a study from the National Institutes of Health suggested positive results for remdesivir’s use in advanced COVID-19, a separate study published in the Lancet did not find an association between remdesivir treatment and clinical benefits.

The Lancet study, which is the first randomized trial to evaluate remdesivir’s efficacy in treating COVID-19, suggested that remdesivir did not demonstrate efficacy in hospitalized patients with the virus who are critically ill, according to the results. However, the investigators noted that the trial was stopped early due to difficulty enrolling new patients, warning that interpretation of the findings is limited.

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NCPA Launches ‘Your Neighbor’ Campaign Spotlight Neighborhood Pharmacists

The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), a coalition representing over 21,000 local pharmacies in the United States, has announced the launch of a national media campaign today that shines a spotlight on neighborhood pharmacists.

“Independent pharmacists are compounding hand sanitizer for first responders. They’re expanding their home delivery services. They’re counseling patients who are worried about the virus and need reliable information from someone they can trust,” said NCPA President Brian Caswell, owner of Wolkar Drug in Baxter Springs, Kansas, in a statement.

The “Your Neighbor” campaign will showcase patient testimonials applauding their neighborhood pharmacists’ unshakable commitment to keeping their patients healthy and protected amidst the novel COVID-19 pandemic.

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COVID-19 Pandemic Underscores Disparities in US Health Care System

Gallup’s recent report evaluating the rising cost of health care in the United States found that 14% of adults in the United States would not visit their health care provider for a fever and dry cough–the most common symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19– because of concerns about affording it.

Gallup’s recent report is part of their ongoing study in conjunction with West Health to evaluate US public opinion on the cost of health care. It was conducted from April 1 through April 14, 2020.

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NACDS Committed to Expanding COVID-19 Testing for Pharmacists

In a Coronavirus Task Force briefing held at the White House, Richard Ashworth, chairman of the board of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) and president of Walgreens, expressed the association’s commitment to facilitating COVID-19 testing by pharmacists through public-private partnerships.

“As a pharmacist, I’m really proud to be part of this profession,” Ashworth said during the briefing in the Rose Garden. “And not just Walgreens pharmacists and pharmacy employees, but all of them, across grocery, mass, independents. You’re really doing what you should be doing and what you went to school for: to help patients, counseling them on their medicines, and helping them understand the problems that we’re facing.”

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Amid COVID-19, Bipartisan Letter Calls for Pharmacy DIR Reform As Part of Relief

A bipartisan letter has urged Congress to consider including provisions permanently prohibiting pharmacy direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) clawbacks by pharmacy benefits managers in future coronavirus relief packages.

The published letter cited increased demand and existing financial strain being amplified during the current pandemic as reasons for the bipartisan push for pharmacy DIR reform. The letter was led by Representatives Buddy Carter (R-Ga), Peter Welch (D-Vt), Doug Collins (R-Ga), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill), John Rose (R-Tenn), and Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) and signed by 115 members of the US House of Representatives.

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Famotidine Trial Under Way in NYC for COVID-19 Treatment

Famotidine, the active compound in the OTC heartburn drug Pepcid, is being tested to treat patients hospitalized with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, by Northwell Health in the New York City area, Science Magazine reported.

The randomized, double-blind trial, which began on April 7, has enrolled 187 participants to date, but expects to expand to a total of 1174 individuals in critical status, including many on ventilators, due to the virus.

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Sarilumab Trial for Treatment of COVID-19 to Include Only ‘Critical’ Patients

Regeneron and Sanofi will amend their phase 3 trial evaluating sarilumab (Kevzara) in hospitalized patients with “severe” or “critical” illness caused by COVID-19 to include only “critical” patients, according to a press release.

Although currently approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, sarilumab, an interleukin-6 (IL-6) receptor antibody, is being investigated for its ability to reduce the overactive inflammatory immune response associated with COVID-19, according to Regeneron. This is based on evidence of markedly elevated levels of IL-6 in severely ill patients with the virus.

The ongoing portion of the phase 3 trial, which is continuing to enroll, currently includes more than 600 patients with “critical” illness.

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AGA Releases Expert Commentary for IBD Management During COVID-19

The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) published their expert commentary update on the management of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) during the current pandemic.

AGA’s recommendations, which were published in Gastroenterology, stress that individuals with IBD may have heightened concerns not only for their particular risk of infection, but also in managing their medication therapies in the face of SARS-CoV-2.

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