Latelines for Oct. 15, 2001
GlaxoSmithKline has become the first Rx maker to jump into the discount card fray, promising seniors with incomes below $26,000 at least 30% reductions off the cash prices they've been paying pharmacies for GSK outpatient products. Details were sketchy at the Capitol Hill news conference, where company officials unveiled their Orange Card program. But Robert Ingram, president of pharmaceutical operations, said, "The pharmacist gets fully reimbursed right away. Nothing comes out of the pharmacist's pocket."
GSK said enrollees in the free program would get direct savings of 25% off the net wholesale price. Participating pharmacies will charge seniors with Orange Cards no more than the price negotiated with Express Scripts, the plan's administrator. In some cases, the savings could be "40% or greater," GSK said. NACDS called GSK's pledge to subsidize or reduce prescription prices "certainly significant" but said it needed more information. CEO Craig Fuller suggested it was a good time to table the Bush Administration's discount card program to "better understand how GSK's Orange Card and other private-sector solutions might possibly work."
AstraZeneca, which already produces budesonide in an inhaled form as Pulmicort for asthma and Rhinocort for allergic rhinitis, is launching the glucocorticosteroid as a capsule, called Entocort EC, for the treatment of mild to moderate Crohn's disease. Designed to be released after it reaches the intestine, Entocort EC is associated with fewer side effects, such as facial swelling and acne, than prednisolone for this chronic inflammatory bowel disease. In clinical trials, Entocort EC 9 mg (three 3-mg capsules taken one daily) improved symptoms in 48% to 69% of patients after two months of use.
A brand-new form of contraception is available. It's NuvaRing, a two-inch plastic circle for vaginal installation that produces a continuous low dose of progestin and estrogen. The contraceptive ring, a prescription item, has to be replaced monthly. Organon, the manufacturer of the product, said the device would be available only to 6,000 doctors in a pilot program this year. National rollout will follow later next year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) new guidelines on attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which call for the use of medication and behavioral therapy, have come under attack by a physician from the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He charges that AAP has underestimated the risk of cancer from the use of Ritalin (methylphenidate, Novartis) in children. Meanwhile, Novartis and Celgene have received approvable letters for their long-acting form of Ritalin, called Ritalin LA, and an immediate-release form called Ritadext.
CVS/pharmacy will begin offering flu clinics in 1,500 of its locations beginning Oct. 29 and lasting through mid-December. Customers can call 1 (800) SHOP-CVS and choose option #5 to find a CVS flu clinic in their area. CVS.com's flu page at www.cvs.com/fluwill help customers determine if they may be at risk for complications from influenza. The cost of a flu shot at CVS will range from $16 to $18. Vaccines for Medicare Part B patients who present their Medicare Card will be available at no charge, provided they have not assigned their Medicare benefits to an HMO.
TAP Pharmaceutical Products has agreed to pay $875 million to settle federal criminal charges and civil liabilities in connection with the marketing of its prostate cancer Rx Lupron (leuprolide). The company, a joint venture between Abbott Laboratories and Takeda Chemical Industries, admitted that it provided free samples to M.D.s with the knowledge that they would seek and receive reimbursement from Medicare.
Fifty-two percent of participating pharmacists said they have seen an increase in physician dispensing above and beyond the usual distribution of samples for indigent care or other programs. That's the conclusion of a survey of pharmacists on the issue of physician dispensing conducted by the Kansas Pharmacists Association. The survey also found that 81% of respondents said they have seen an increase in the use of "vouchers" for the distribution of samples. When asked if they were aware of any instance(s) in which medication dispensed by a physician was provided to a patient in anything other than an appropriately labeled container, 43% said Yes and 57% said No. Twenty-one respondents answered the survey questionnaire.
Lester M. Crawford, a veterinarian with a Ph.D. in pharmacology, seems to have the inside track to head the FDA. At, 63, he is director of the Virginia Tech Center for Food & Nutrition Policy and a former official at the Department of Agriculture and FDA. Crawford is widely believed to be HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's pick for the post, which has been vacant since January. One potential hurdle is completion of the required background check, which, with so many FBI resources devoted to the events of Sept. 11, may push off a Senate confirmation vote until next year.
Four regional independent pharmacy organizations and NCPA are joining forces to form the Independent Pharmacy Marketplace Alliance (IPMA). Calvin Anthony, stepping down in December as NCPA's executive v.p., will serve as IPMA's chairman. The regional groups involved are the Georgia Pharmacy Association's Academy of Independent Pharmacy, Independent Pharmacy Cooperative, PACE Alliance, and Pharmacy Providers of Oklahoma. IPMA's first priority is to regain control of Rx and other non-patient-specific data that pharmacies collect and market to their advantage. IPMA endorsed two companies, ArcLight Systems and the Hamacher division of NONSTOP Solutions, to help independent pharmacies do that.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will begin national Medicare coverage of home testing by patients with mechanical heart valves to measure their response to anticoagulant therapy. There has been no national coverage policy for self-testing in the home for prothrombin level (also called INR testing) for such patients, and the insurance companies that process and pay Medicare claims have been denying claims for home prothrombin self-testing. The new policy allows beneficiaries to perform the test themselves, thereby permitting more frequent monitoring. According to a CMS spokesman, patients can buy the testing device, which is expensive, from their physician or from a lab. "We don't pay for the device. We are not calling it durable medical equipment. We already pay for someone to come to the house [to do the testing]. We will now cover the lab fees. It may be more than six months until the coverage is implemented," the spokesman said.
Hoffmann-La Roche is offering Xenical (orlistat) free for an additional three months to cash-paying patients who agree to buy the drug for an initial three-month period. The "Xenical 3 for 3 Incentive" was introduced to encourage patients to reach the three-month weight-loss marker. According to Dr. Henry Solomon, Roche medical director, patients completing the first three months experience even greater success in the following three months.
Healthcare leaders have teamed up to give hospital R.Ph.s information about therapeutic alternatives for unavailable drugs or those in short supply. The University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics Drug Information Service will develop the information for Novation, the supply firm of VHA Inc. and the University HealthSystem Consortium. The information will be shared with ASHP and posted at www.ashp.org.
Eckerd Health Services (EHS) is launching a new technology-based customer service program intended to improve the way in which call centers are operated for pharmacy benefit managers. The new program will allow EHS to provide detailed feedback on the types of information callers are seeking when they use EHS' Customer Service Call Center. The reports will enable client companies to understand their employees' concerns or develop programs to increase their knowledge. EHS has partnered with Nortel Networks to implement the technology.
Bristol-Myers Squibb has completed its $7.8 billion cash acquisition of DuPont Pharmaceuticals Co., which was announced last June. The deal brought DuPont's Coumadin and Sustiva brands into the drug stable of BMS, which has pegged future growth on its medicine line. Bristol-Myers had earlier announced the sale of its Clairol hair care business.
Pharmacists can download and print patient education materials about the upcoming influenza season from the Web through the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The portfolio includes two posters, four flyers, and buttons for healthcare providers. All materials are available in English and Spanish. Current information about the 2001-2002 flu season is also posted at www.cdc.gov/nip/flu/print-materials.htm.
The Maryland Pharmacy Coalition is the name of a new association formed by three groups. The Maryland Pharmacists Association, the Maryland Society of Health-system Pharmacists, and the state's chapter of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists forged the collaboration in order to provide a forum for discussion of issues among the pharmacy associations as well as to address legislative and regulatory concerns with a unified voice.
Marina Marketos. Latelines. Drug Topics 2001;21:5.