Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s Cases in the U.S. website, here is the FEHBlog’s chart of new weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths over the 20th through 44th weeks of this year (beginning May 14 and ending November 4; using Thursday as the first day of the week in order to facilitate this weekly update):

and here is the CDC’s latest overall weekly hospitalization rate chart for COVID-19:

The FEHBlog has noted that the new cases and deaths chart shows a flat line for new weekly deaths  because new cases greatly exceed new deaths. Accordingly here is a chart of new COVID-19 deaths over the same period (May 14 through November 4).

On the flip side, also according to the CDC, “seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains low.”

Fierce Biotech discusses the progress of a Humanigen investigation new drug called lenzilumab which is undergoing a phase 3 trial.

If the trial succeeds, lenzilumab could emerge as part of the arsenal for treating some of the sickest COVID-19 patients. Lenzilumab may stop cytokine storms, the severe hyperimmune responses that drive organ damage in some COVID-19 patients. Currently, physicians treat such severe patients with steroids and Gilead’s remdesivir, but there remains a need for more efficacious therapies. 

The chances of anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies meeting that need have diminished in recent weeks as prospects in development at Eli Lilly and Regeneron have failed in severe COVID-19 patients. Efforts to use existing drugs, notably anti-IL-6 antibodies such as Sanofi’s Kevzara, to stop cytokine storms in COVID-19 patients have also failed. 

In other investigational drug news, the Boston Globe reports that

Biogen Inc.’s experimental Alzheimer’s disease therapy [mentioned in the FEHBlog earlier this week] failed to gain support from a panel of US Food and Drug Administration advisers on Friday, putting the drug at a crossroads as the agency weighs approval.

The outside experts voted 8 to 1, with 2 undecided, that data from a single clinical trial with positive results was insufficient to show Biogen’s drug works. The vote contradicts a report FDA reviewers prepared ahead of the meeting that supported the efficacy of the drug, called aducanumab, though there was dissent in the agency. * * *

The advisory committee’s recommendations aren’t binding. The FDA often calls on panels of experts, including researchers, medical professionals and patient representatives, when it is considering whether to approve a new drug. Wall Street analysts said the FDA seemed set on viewing the drug positively.

“This will be a test for the FDA on what happens when the FDA is on one extreme and the panel is seemingly on the other, with science and evidence or the lack thereof being at the core of discussion,” Mizuho analyst Salim Syed said in an email to Bloomberg News.

At long last (given the fact that the Medicare Open Season stated on October 15), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this afternoon announced Medicare Part B premiums and Parts A and B cost sharing changes for 2021:

  • The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will be $148.50 in 2021, an increase of $3.90 from $144.60 in 2020.  The fact sheet that would show income adjusted premiums for high earners was unavailable online this evening. Check again here on Sunday.
  • The Medicare Part A inpatient deductible that beneficiaries will pay when admitted to the hospital is $1,484 in 2021, an increase of $76 from $1,408 in 2020. 
  • The annual deductible for Medicare Part B beneficiaries is $203 in 2021, an increase of $5 from $198 in 2020.

CVS Health not only announced third quarter earnings today; it also disclosed that its current CEO Larry Merlo is retiring and Karen Lynch, who currently heads the Aetna business unit, will replace him. Congratulations to both of them. Healthcare Dive adds

CVS’ medical loss ratio was 84%. That’s compared to just 70.3% in the second quarter as consumers deferred non-essential care amid COVID-19.

CVS has now administered more than 6 million COVID-19 diagnostic tests across 4,000 testing sites, representing 70% of all testing done in retail settings, Merlo said.

Health Payer Intelligence discusses how “Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) has partnered with hospitals across the state in a new program that seeks to pursue health equity by focusing on mitigating health disparities for racial and ethnic minorities.” Well done.