Growth Hormone: Drug companies are growing less generous in helping patients pay for meds

For 14 years, Encino resident Ed Wright received an expensive prescription medication for free through a drug-industry program intended to assist people with limited or fixed incomes.

Now he’s rationing his doses after a change to the program that imposed a $1,100 deductible before he can get a refill.

“I can’t afford that,” Wright, 75, told me. “When I run out in a few weeks, that’s going to be it.”

He isn’t alone. Industry watchers say soaring drug prices have prompted many pharmaceutical companies to rethink long-standing programs to help subsidize purchases or even give meds away for free.

“More and more people have become aware of these programs, and demand has gone up,” said David P. Wilson, president of PRAM Insurance Services, a Brea firm that helps employers with prescription-drug benefits.

This means trouble for patients who, like Wright, can’t handle sticker shock at the drugstore.

He suffered a head injury 17 years ago that damaged his pituitary gland. In 2003, he was diagnosed as having an abnormally low level of growth hormone, which caused him to suddenly become overwhelmed with fatigue.

That’s a potentially life-threatening condition if an episode should occur while driving, walking down stairs or performing some other physical activity.

Wright’s doctor prescribed the self-injected human growth hormone Humatrope, manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co.

The cost, however, was out of reach for Wright, even with Medicare Part D. According to the drug-pricing website GoodRX, a 6-milligram cartridge of Humatrope — a one month’s supply — runs about $700.

Luckily, Wright’s fixed income made him eligible for a program called Lilly Cares, which made the drug available free of charge. He and his doctor would renew the paperwork annually, and for 14 years Wright had no difficulty receiving the med.

That’s no longer the case with the new $1,100 deductible, which requires Wright to spend that amount on prescription drugs before he can access his free Humatrope.

Wright requires few other drugs, so the deductible is an almost insurmountable barrier to maintaining normal quality of life.

Most drugmakers offer what are known as patient assistance programs, through which the company may provide meds directly to patients at little or no cost. Or the company may assist with co-payments — the patient’s out-of-pocket expense that’s not covered by an insurer.

2009 study published in the journal Health Affairs found that most patient assistance programs run by drug companies were reluctant to disclose details of the number of people they serve or the program’s eligibility requirements.

These programs “exist to provide patients with access to a wide variety of medications,” researchers concluded. However, “many details about these programs remain unclear. As a result, the extent to which these programs provide a safety net to patients is poorly understood.”

Aaron Tidball, chief Medicare advisor for the Illinois consulting firm Allsup, which assists individuals and businesses in navigating the public insurance system, said Lilly Cares “has been more generous than some programs we’ve seen.”

He said that, until now, people who qualified for Lilly’s assistance were able to receive whatever specialty meds that were prescribed by their doctor without cost or co-pay.

It should be noted, though, that Lilly has structured its program so the company benefits as well. Rather than provide drugs directly to patients, as many companies do, Lilly donates its medications to a private foundation, the Lilly Cares Foundation, which in turn deals with the public.

This allows Lilly to deduct the value of its donated drugs from its taxes. According to the nonprofit foundation’s 2015 tax return, which by law must be made public, the Lilly Cares Foundation received more than $408 million worth of drugs from the company. That figure represented the “fair market value” of the meds.

“That’s obviously a lot more than the cost to produce the drugs,” observed Jeff Geida, a Los Angeles estate lawyer who specializes in nonprofit foundations and who examined the most recent Lilly Cares tax return at my request.

In other words, Lilly was able to reduce its taxable income for the year by $408 million, although the actual expense of manufacturing the donated drugs almost certainly was just a fraction of the deducted amount.

“It’s a very good deal,” Geida said.

To be sure, the company is still doing enormous good by making millions of dollars worth of drugs available to people in need. But the inflated figures highlight the lack of transparency surrounding the true cost of prescription meds.

Julie Williams, a Lilly spokeswoman, declined to answer my questions about the Lilly Cares Foundation. But she forwarded a statement from Steven Stapleton, the foundation’s president.

He said the foundation imposed the $1,100 deductible for Medicare Part D beneficiaries “after benchmarking our program with other similar programs, helping Lilly Cares to balance all the criteria for the program and to try to help as many people as possible.”

That’s just gibberish to my ear — and doesn’t address the fact that Lilly still helps itself to that whopping tax deduction while making it considerably harder for low-income people to receive assistance.

I called the foundation and spoke with a service rep, but she said she didn’t know why the deductible was put in place. Nor could she explain how it’s in the best interest of patients with limited incomes to have to spend $1,100 on drugs before being eligible to receive a needed medicine.

Stapleton said notifications were sent to program participants in the fall of 2015 and 2016, but Wright told me he couldn’t recall receiving any such notice. The office manager of his doctor’s practice said she too was caught by surprise.

Lilly Cares made the situation even more inexplicable when it sent a notice to Wright last month formally dropping him from the program. The only reason it gave was “inactivity,” which made no sense considering that he’s been using Humatrope steadily for 14 years.

Williams, the Lilly spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss an individual patient.

Wright told me that, after I started poking around, he received a call from a Lilly representative. She advised him to contact the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, an industry-sponsored service intended to help people find subsidy programs that can help cover the high cost of their meds.

Wright contacted four subsidy programs through the service. Each one turned him down.

Lilly says it’s balancing all the criteria for Lilly Cares, which undoubtedly will make the company more profitable.

Wright, and the many other patients in similar positions, are a secondary consideration.

From http://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-prescription-drug-assistance-20170815-story.html

Study links genetic mutations, Cushing syndrome

Researchers have determined mutations in the gene CABLES1 may lead to Cushing syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body overproduces the stress hormone cortisol.

The National Institutes of Health study findings published in Endocrine-Related Cancer found four of the 181 children and adult patient examined had mutant forms of CABLES1 that do not respond to cortisol.

The determination proved significant because normal functioning CABLES1 protein, expressed by the CABLES1 gene, slows the division and growth of pituitary cells that produce the hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH).

Researchers at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) joined scientists from other institutions in the United States, France and Canada, in the evaluation.

“The mutations we identified impair the tumor suppressor function in the pituitary gland,” Constantine A. Stratakis, the study’s senior author and director of the NICHD Division of Intramural Research, said. “This discovery could lead to the development of treatment strategies that simulate the function of the CABLES1 protein and prevent recurrence of pituitary tumors in people with Cushing syndrome.”

Cushing syndrome symptoms include obesity, muscle weakness, fatigue, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, depression and anxiety, officials said, adding excess cortisol found in the disorder can result from certain steroid medications or from tumors of the pituitary or adrenal glands.

Researchers maintain that more studies are needed to fully understand how CABLES1 suppresses tumor formation in the pituitary gland.

 

From https://lifesciencedaily.com/stories/21624-study-links-genetic-mutations-cushing-syndrome/

Primary Adrenal Insufficiency (PAI)

 Al-Jurayyan NA
Background: Primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) in children is an uncommon, but potentially fatal. The current symptoms include weakness, fatigue, anorexia, abdominal pain, weight loss, orthostatic hypotension, salt craving and characterized by hyperpigmentation.
Material and Methods: This is a retrospective, hospital based-study, conducted at King Khalid University Hospital (KKUH), during the period January 1989 and December 2014. Review of medical record of patient diagnosed with primary adrenal insufficiency. The diagnosis was based on medical history, physical examination and low levels of glucocorticoids and raised adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Appropriate laboratory and radiological investigations were also reviewed.
Results: During the period under review, January 1989 and December 2014, a total of 125 patients with the diagnosis of primary adrenal insufficiency were seen. Inherited disorders like congenital adrenal hyperplasia and hypoplasia were common, 85.5%. However, variable autoimmune mediated etiologic diagnosis accounted for, 13%, were also seen. The appropriate various laboratory and radiological investigations should be planned.
Conclusion: Although, congenital adrenal hyperplasia was the commonest etiology, however, congenital adrenal hypoplasia should not be over looked. The diagnosis of PAI can be challenging in some patients, and therefore appropriate serological and radiological investigations should be done.

Osilodrostat maintained cortisol control in Cushing’s syndrome

Osilodrostat, a drug that normalized cortisol in 89% of patients with Cushing’s syndrome who took it during a phase II study, continued to exert a sustained benefit during a 31-month extension phase.

In an intent-to-treat analysis, all of the 16 patients who entered the LINC-2 extension study responded well to the medication, with no lapse in cortisol control, Rosario Pivonello, MD, said at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

“We also saw significant improvements in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and decreases in fasting plasma glucose,” said Dr. Pivonello of the University of Naples Federico II, Italy. “Surprisingly, after 31 months, we also observed declines in body mass index and weight.”

Osilodrostat, made by Novartis, is an oral inhibitor of 11 beta–hydroxylase. The enzyme catalyzes the last step of cortisol synthesis in the adrenal cortex. The drug was granted orphan status in 2014 by the European Medicines Agency.

In the LINC-2 study, 19 patients took osilodrostat at an initial dose of either 4 mg/day or 10 mg/day, if baseline urinary-free cortisol exceeded three times the upper normal limit. The dose was escalated every 2 weeks to up to 60 mg/day, until cortisol levels were at or below the upper limit of normal. In this study, the main efficacy endpoint was normalization of cortisol, or at least a 50% decrease from baseline at weeks 10 and 22.

Overall response was 89%. Osilodrostat treatment reduced urinary-free cortisol in all patients, and 79% had normal cortisol levels at week 22. The most common adverse events were asthenia, adrenal insufficiency, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea, and acne. New or worsening hirsutism and/or acne were reported among four female patients, all of whom had increased testosterone levels.

The LINC-2 extension study enrolled 16 patients from the phase II cohort, all of whom had responded to the medication. They were allowed to continue on their existing effective dose through the 31-month period.

Dr. Pivonello presented response curves that tracked cortisol levels from treatment initiation in the LINC-2 study. The median baseline cortisol level was about 1,500 nmol per 24 hours. By the fourth week of treatment, this had normalized in all of the patients who entered the extension phase. The response curve showed continued, stable cortisol suppression throughout the entire 31-month period.

Four patients dropped out during the course of the study. Dr. Pivonello didn’t discuss the reasons for these dropouts. He did break down the results by response, imputing the missing data from these four patients. In this analysis, the majority (87.5%) were fully controlled, with urinary-free cortisol in the normal range. The remainder were partially controlled, experiencing at least a 50% decrease in cortisol from their baseline levels. These responses were stable, with no patient experiencing loss of control over the follow-up period.

The 12 remaining patients are still taking the medication, and they experienced other clinical improvements as well. Systolic blood pressure decreased by a mean of 2.2% (from 130 mm Hg to 127 mm Hg). Diastolic blood pressure also improved, by 6% (from 85 mm Hg to 80 mm Hg).

Fasting plasma glucose dropped from a mean of 89 mg/dL to 82 mg/dL. Weight decreased from a mean of 84 kg to 74 kg, with a corresponding decrease in body mass index, from 29.6 kg/m2 to 26.2 kg/m2.

Serum aldosterone decreased along with cortisol, dropping from a mean of 168 pmol/L to just 19 pmol/L. Adrenocorticotropic hormone increased, as did 11-deoxycortisol, 11-deoxycorticosterone, and testosterone.

Pituitary tumor size was measured in six patients. It increased in three and decreased in three. Dr. Pivonello didn’t discuss why this might have occurred.

The most common adverse events were asthenia, adrenal insufficiency, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, nausea, and acne. These moderated over time in both number and severity.

However, there were eight serious adverse events among three patients, including prolonged Q-T interval on electrocardiogram, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, headache, noncardiac chest pain, symptoms related to pituitary tumor (two patients), and uncontrolled Cushing’s syndrome.

Two patients experienced hypokalemia. Six experienced mild events related to hypocortisolism.

Novartis is pursuing the drug with two placebo-controlled phase III studies (LINC-3 and LINC-4), Dr. Pivonello said. An additional phase II study is being conducted in Japan.

Dr. Pivonello has received consulting fees and honoraria from Novartis, which sponsored the study.

Pituitary Dysfunction as a Result of Traumatic Brain Injury

A victim of brain injury can experience many consequences and complications as a result of brain damage. Unfortunately, the problems caused by a traumatic brain injury can extend even beyond what most people think of as the standard symptoms of a brain injury, like mood change and cognitive impairment. One issue which can occur is pituitary dysfunction. If the pituitary gland is damaged due to injury to the brain, the consequences can be dramatic as the pituitary gland works together with the hypothalamus to control every hormonal aspect of a person’s body.

Pituitary dysfunction as a result of a brain injury can be difficult to diagnose, as you may not immediately connect your symptoms to the head injury you experienced. If you did suffer injury to the pituitary gland, you need to know about it so you can get proper treatment. If someone else caused your brain injury to occur, you also want to know about your pituitary dysfunction so you can receive compensation for costs and losses associated with this serious health problem.

The pituitary is a small area of the center of your brain that is about the size of the uvula. The pituitary is surrounded and guarded by bone, but it does hang down.  When it becomes damaged as a result of a brain injury, the damage normally occurs as a result of the fact the pituitary was affected by reduced by reduced blood flow. It can also be harmed directly from the trauma, and only a tiny amount of damage can cause profound consequences.

Many of the important hormones that your body needs are controlled by the pituitary working with the hypothalamus. If the pituitary is damaged, the result can include a deficiency of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). This deficiency can affect your heart and can impact bone development.  Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) can also be affected, which could result in hypothyroidism. Sex hormones (gonodotropin); Adrenocorticotopic hormone; and many other hormones could be impacted as well, causing fertility problems; muscle loss; sexual dysfunction; kidney problems; fatigue; or even death.

Unfortunately, problems with the pituitary gland may not always be visible on MRIs or other imaging tests because the pituitary is so small. Endocrinologists who handle hormone therapy frequently are not familiar with brain injuries, and may not make the connection that your brain injury was the cause of the problem.

If you begin to experience hormonal issues following an accident, you should be certain to get an accurate diagnosis to determine if your brain injury played a role. If it did, those responsible for causing the accident could be responsible for compensating you for the harm you have experienced to your pituitary and to the body systems which malfunction as a result of your new hormonal issues.

Nelson Blair Langer Engle, PLLC

From http://www.nblelaw.com/posts/pituitary-dysfunction-result-of-traumatic-brain-injury

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