With all the public attention now focused on soaring drug costs, Big Pharma just can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight. Drug makers are keeping up their eyebrow-raising actions, as are purveyors of so-called “stem cell” treatments, and it’s worth noting some of what’s happening with these:
Will insurers, MDs, patients pay for $14,000-a-year cholesterol fighting drug?
- Amgen saw its stock tumble late last week after it announced at a major cardiologists’ conference the results of Repatha, its major new heart care drug also known as volocumab . It is supposed to be given along with a statin to further help cut cholesterol. The drug maker hoped it would show major improvements for patients with cardiac disease. As Stat, the online news site reported, Amgen said that, based on tests with 27,000 patients, Repatha and a maximum statin dose meant that, “Those who got Amgen’s drug were 15 percent less likely to suffer a bad outcome, defined as heart attack, stroke, hospitalization for chest pain, placement of a stent, or death. However, looking at death rates alone, there was no significant difference between” those taking Repatha and those not. Amgen had hoped to stronger results with its new drug, which aims to lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol by blocking a protein called PCSK9. The New York Times reported the drug performed closer to upper levels of expectations in the $1 billion trial, paid for by Amgen and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This new approach to heart care and cholesterol reduction was expected to create potentially a $3 billion new market. But Repatha now carries a $14,000 annual list price, astronomically higher than a generic statin that might run a few dollars a month. Physicians might be reluctant to prescribe it at that price and with only modestly more effectiveness. Insurers likely would balk at its cost. I’ve written before about the Number Needed to Treat, an evidence-based scoring system that can give clinicians and patients a fast snapshot in a single figure the effectiveness of a drug or treatment. A five-year regimen of regular statin care has been estimated to have a life-saving NNT of 83, meaning that it took that number of patients receiving the drug for one to benefit. Repatha’s NNT has been calculated by one published researcher as between 33 and 50.