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

A Retrospective Review of 34 Cases of Pediatric Pituitary Adenoma

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to study invasiveness, tumor features and clinical symptoms of pediatric pituitary adenoma, and to discuss some inconclusive results in prior studies.

Methods

We retrospectively reviewed 34 cases of children (<20 year-old) who were pathologically diagnosed with pituitary adenoma and surgically treated from 2010 to 2017. Data of general information, clinical symptoms, invasive behaviors, surgery approaches, and tumor features were collected and analyzed.

Results

Sixteen boys and 18 girls aged from 12 to 19 years old were included. Prolactinoma was most suffered, followed by GH-, none- and ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma. Invasive behaviors were observed frequently and suprasellar extensions were most found. Macroadenoma account 70% of all cases. Meanwhile, unlike prior studies, a significant raise of incidence on invasive tumor and pituitary adenoma apoplexy were observed. Craniotomy and transsphenoidal surgery were both applied with zero mortality. Nine cases occurred with transient hypopituitarism and diabetes insipidus. Three cases of tumor recurrence received secondary surgery or radiotherapy.

Conclusions

Invasive behaviors were more frequent than previous prediction. Craniotomy is worth considering for total tumor removal. Pituitary adenoma apoplexy needs further studies since its different features between children and adults in present study. Specialized care and teamwork of neurosurgeons, pediatricians, and endocrinologists are important.

Keywords

Pediatric pituitary adenoma Invasion Pituitary apoplexy Transsphenoidal surgery 

Growth Hormone: Improving Patients’ Lives and Boosting Mature Product Portfolios

Jul 07, 2017
Volume 37, Issue 7

easypod—an automated drug delivery device manufactured by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany for its recombinant human growth hormone, Saizen—is the only electronic, fully automated injection device for growth hormone therapy. Its features include automated dose delivery and prescription tracking, which records injection history and any missed injections, and allows patients to know when to change their cartridge by displaying how much medicine is left in the device.

Speaking to Pharm Exec, Merck KGaA’s Chief Operating Officer of Biopharma, Simon Sturge, outlines the device’s development and highlights its position in the context of a changing treatment-adherence landscape that could bring benefits both to patients and mature product portfolios.

PE: Are digital interventions in patient adherence becoming more of a focus at your company?

STURGE: Absolutely. We are a major player in the area of diabetes, for example, and as we all know, lifestyle has a huge impact on the outcome of diabetes. How much we as a company should be able to offer a whole package that helps to support the lifestyle changes needed is a very important element of us preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes. In other areas, many people who are sick have a degree of depression. There are excellent apps that are reimbursed in some countries to help treat depression, and those sorts of things should be offered as part of a solution. We believe it is an essential part of our business to look holistically at the patient and bring to that patient as many practical things as possible to help them overcome their disease.

However, innovative drugs are also at the core of what we do. A few years ago, we established a clear strategy of driving innovation in the area of specialty products. This has taken quite some time from an R&D perspective, but it is now coming to fruition, with a focus on the areas of oncology, immuno-oncology, and immunology. We have a number of exciting innovative products coming to market, and what we’re also seeing is substantial growth on the portfolio of our established products, one of which is our growth hormone, Saizen.

PE: How much did you incorporate patients’ adherence behaviors in developing easypod?

STURGE: Quite a few of our products are biotech products that need to be given via injection. Understanding the patient need around that product, how they inject, what the issues are, particularly for children, has helped drive our e-health and digital platform. We have a number of different applications around our growth hormone product, but the most sophisticated is easypod. The device sends administration data such as time and dose to the cloud via a mobile device or home network, and then shares that data with the treating physician or carer, to be able to understand the usage of that product.

There are digital ways that you can track people and their activities, of course, but what we’ve found is that you can’t beat having somebody almost living with a patient. In some circumstances we do that. We use an external group, and they send an observer to stay with a family for several days to really understand the practical issues that surround the use of the product. It’s those kinds of insights that really help to provide solutions that are practical and that address genuine issues that the patient wants to overcome.

Adherence in using an injectable product in a chronic environment can be very low, as low as 25%, but we’ve seen in controlled studies that with easypod that we can take that up to close to 90%.

[Ramy Sourial, growth hormone franchise director at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, adds: We worked with patient organizations and healthcare providers at different stages of planning the device, and we used focus groups and market researchers to identify the needs. During development, we conduct regular tests to check that we are on the right track. And when the product is on the market, we continue to improve the device, even small things like designing covers and designing smaller needles.]

PE: Can this higher adherence be sustained in a real-world setting?

STURGE: We’re moving to very elegant devices, more universal devices; physicians and caregivers are becoming a lot more comfortable using the data that is generated. Where the big transition needs to take place is still with the payers. The NHS (National Health Service) is one of the most sophisticated providers in terms of understanding usage of products on a more holistic basis and has a willingness to work with the pharma industry on pricing and payment mechanisms that ultimately link efficacy with payment. As governments, payers, and the industry work more closely together, this will be of benefit to all parties and especially patients.

Our responsibility as a pharma company is broader than just supplying the drug. We have worked with the NHS on schemes where they only pay if the drug is used. If adherence levels are low, they don’t pay. In some of the pilot schemes with the NHS in a real-world setting, we were getting those adherence rates of close to 90%; we think that is quite achievable in everyday use. But there’s always things you can add, adding digital gains into these things to encourage children to use these devices on a daily basis; it’s a dynamic process and our aim is to try and maintain these increased adherence rates.

PE: What would you say are the remaining challenges in patient adherence?

STURGE: One of the biggest challenges we face is data privacy, the different data privacy laws country by country. If you end up having to develop software that has to be different in every country, it becomes less meaningful. Respecting and understanding data privacy but having a broader global alignment on data privacy laws in our industry will help everybody.

It will remain a sticking point for quite some time; it’s a highly complex and politically emotive subject, for very good reasons. But our concern isn’t around data privacy, per se—it’s consistency of the regulations thereof.

 

Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at julian.upton@ubm.com

From http://www.pharmexec.com/improving-patients-lives-and-boosting-mature-product-portfolios

Bimonthly Growth Hormone Injections to Replace Daily Injections?

At the Annual ENDO 2017 meeting in Orlando, FL, Moore et al provided an update on somavaratan, the long acting recombinant human growth hormone being investigated for children and adults with growth hormone deficiency.

Current treatment for these patients is somewhat burdensome given the need for daily subcutaneous injections. Somavaratan provides the option for bimonthly injections.

At ENDO 2017, 3 year data was presented in children given somavaratan and the data is impressive.

The 3 year data is part of an ongoing extension study following a 6 month Phase 2 trial in which 64 patients received 5.0 mg/kg/month at various dosing schedules. Of those patients, 60 continued in an open label extension study (dose adjusted to 3.5 mg/kg given twice-monthly by the beginning of Year 2 of treatment).  At ENDO 2017, data from 30 of those patients who had completed 3 years of treatment were presented.

(Insulin-like growth factor standard deviation score (IGF-I SDS) increased from -1.7 ± 0.8 at baseline to 1.1 ± 1.6 at peak (3–5 days post-injection) and -0.2 ± 0.9 at trough (end of dosing cycle) in Year 3. Of the 30 patients, 8 had transient IGF-I SDS excursions > 2.0, of which 3 events were > 3.0 (range, 2.3–3.9).

Height velocity (HV) remained consistent at 8.5 ± 1.8, 8.5 ± 1.7, and 8.1 ± 1.5 cm/year, for years 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

Height-SDS increased from -2.6 ± 0.5 at baseline to -1.9 ± 0.6, -1.4 ± 0.7, and -1.0 ± 0.7 at years 1, 2, and 3, respectively.

Treatment-related adverse events were generally mild and transient.

In an exclusive interview with Rare Disease Report, one of the investigators of the study, Bradley Miller, MD, PhD, of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, said that compliance is an issue with growth hormone replacement therapy and any options that can remove the daily injection requirements would likely be well received by both patients and clinicians.

A Phase 3 study is currently underway to comparing bimonthly somavaratan treatment with daily growth hormone treatments (NCT02339090).

Somavaratan is being developed by Versartis Inc

About Growth Hormone Deficiency 

Growth hormone deficiency occurs when the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone, resulting in short stature, delayed or absent puberty, and changes in muscle mass, cholesterol levels, and bone strength. The condition can be congenital, structural (malformations in the brain) or acquired (resulting from trauma, infections, tumors, radiation therapy, or other causes).

Currently, the standard of care is subcutaneous injection of a biosynthetic recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH). The frequency of the injections is based on the patient’s level of growth hormone deficiency (ie, whether growth hormone is completely absent or some growth hormone is present), but most patients require daily administration.

The rhGH treatments are typically given until the child’s maximum growth potential is achieved, often requiring many years of treatment (and increasing the risk of poor compliance).

Reference

Moore WV, Fechner PY, Nguyan HJ, et al. Safety and Efficacy of Somavaratan (VRS-317), a Long-Acting Recombinant Human Growth Hormone (rhGH), in Children with Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD): 3-Year Update of the Vertical & VISTA Trials (NCT01718041, NCT02068521). Presented at: ENDO 2017; Orlando, FL; April 1-4, 2017. Abstract OE31-1.

From http://www.raredr.com/news/bimonthly-growth-hormone

The Pituitary Gland: Small But Mighty

The pituitary gland works hard to keep you healthy, doing everything from ensuring proper bone and muscle growth to helping nursing mothers produce milk for their babies. Its functionality is even more remarkable when you consider the gland is the size of a pea.

“The pituitary is commonly referred to as the ‘master’ gland because it does so many important jobs in the body,” says Karen Frankwich, MD, a board-certified endocrinologist at Mission Hospital. “Not only does the pituitary make its own hormones, but it also triggers hormone production in other glands. The pituitary is aided in its job by the hypothalamus. This part of the brain is situated above the pituitary, and sends messages to the gland on when to release or stimulate production of necessary hormones.”

These hormones include:

  • Growth hormone, for healthy bone and muscle mass
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone, which signals the thyroid to produce its hormones that govern metabolism and the body’s nervous system, among others
  • Follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones for healthy reproductive systems (including ovarian egg development in women and sperm formation in men, as well as estrogen and testosterone production)
  • Prolactin, for breast milk production in nursing mothers
  • Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), which prompts the adrenal glands to produce the stress hormone cortisol. The proper amount of cortisol helps the body adapt to stressful situations by affecting the immune and nervous systems, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and metabolism.
  • Antidiuretic (ADH), which helps the kidneys control urine levels
  • Oxytocin, which can stimulate labor in pregnant women

The work of the pituitary gland can be affected by non-cancerous tumors called adenomas. “These tumors can affect hormone production, so you have too little or too much of a certain hormone,” Dr. Frankwich says. “Larger tumors that are more than 1 centimeter, called macroadenomas, can also put pressure on the area surrounding the gland, which can lead to vision problems and headaches. Because symptoms can vary depending on the hormone that is affected by a tumor, or sometimes there are no symptoms, adenomas can be difficult to pinpoint. General symptoms can include nausea, weight loss or gain, sluggishness or weakness, and changes in menstruation for women and sex drive for men.”

If there’s a suspected tumor, a doctor will usually run tests on a patient’s blood and urine, and possibly order a brain-imaging scan. An endocrinologist can help guide a patient on the best course of treatment, which could consist of surgery, medication, radiation therapy or careful monitoring of the tumor if it hasn’t caused major disruption.

“The pituitary gland is integral to a healthy, well-functioning body in so many ways,” Dr. Frankwich says. “It may not be a major organ you think about much, but it’s important to know how it works, and how it touches on so many aspects of your health.”

Learn more about Mission Hospital. Learn more about Dr. Frankwich.

From http://www.stjhs.org/HealthCalling/2016/December/The-Pituitary-Gland-Small-but-Mighty.aspx

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