Weekend Update

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

The U.S. House of Representative both will be engaged in committee work through Wednesday this week until Yom Kippur begins on Wednesday evening. The Senate also will be engaged in floor voting for the same period. Committee work principally will focus on the details of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill and a related Plan B measures including a stopgap extension of federal funding past September 30 and addressing the debt ceiling.

On the Delta variant front

The Wall Street Journal explains that epidemiologists no long think that COVID-19 can be eradicated. We have a good shot at the virus becoming endemic / a routine treatable illness.

When or even whether Covid-19 settles into that status depends on how many more people get vaccinated and how soon, said Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

For Covid-19 to become mild, most people will need some immunity, which studies have shown reduces the severity of the disease. Infections provide some immunity, but at risk of severe illness, death and further spread of the virus, compared with vaccines. People could become vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 if that immunity erodes or is weak, or if the virus mutates.

“The more people who are vaccinated, the less problems there are going to be,” Dr. Garcia-Sastre said.

The Journal’s Numbers columnist explains why COVID-19 vaccination boosters will be necessary.

“We’re fortunate with tetanus, diphtheria, measles and vaccinia,” Dr. [Mark] Slifka [from the Oregon Health & Science University] said. “We have identified what the threshold of protection is. You track antibody decline over time, and if you know the threshold of protection, you can calculate durability of protection. With Covid, we don’t know.”

Complicating things further, viruses and bacteria that mutate to escape the body’s immune response are harder to control.

Measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox hardly mutate at all, but at least eight variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, have been found, according to the British Medical Journal.  

“It does make it more complicated for the vaccine to work,” Dr. Slifka said. “You’re chasing multiple targets over time. Flu also mutates. With flu, we’ve adjusted by making a new flu vaccine each year that as closely as possible matches the new strain of flu.”

The FDA’s Vaccines Advisory Committee meets on the topic of COVID-19 boosters this Friday September 17. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has scheduled a complementary meeting for September 29.

The FEHBlog ran across this interesting WebMD article titled “Monoclonal Antibodies vs. Vaccines vs. COVID-19: What to Know.” “‘As hospitalizations go up nationwide, we have a therapy here that can mitigate that,’ says William Fales, MD, medical director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Division of EMS and Trauma. Getting monoclonal antibodies is one of ‘the best things you can do once you’re positive.’” However, the vaccine’s protection against COVID-19 has a much longer duration than this treatment. “There are two authorized uses for monoclonal antibodies: To treat or stop COVID-19’s progression in a high-risk person who tests positive, and to prevent COVID-19 in a high-risk person who’s been exposed.” The treatment is administered while hospitalized or while outpatient at an infusion center.

In RX news, Managed Healthcare Executive reports

The FDA has approved 30 biosimilars and 21 have been launched. But it won’t be till biosimilars for some of the more widely prescribed biologics are on the market before biosimilars really start to have a major impact on American healthcare and its cost, according to a top-ranking executive at OptumRx.

“We’re still a few years away from the point at which the most widely-utilized … products in the U.S. today will be available as biosimilars,” Savitha Vivian, senior vice president of clinical and formulary Services for OptumRx, said in an interview with Managed Healthcare Executive®. “And that’s really what we’re looking for, because that’s going to enable a more sizable and impactful bottom-line savings.”

Ms. Vivian expects Humira to hit the bio-similar market in 2023.

“Another significant biosimilar launch that is still two to three years away from one for Novo Nordisk’s insulin aspart injection (Novolog), a “highly utilized medication, especially in the outpatient setting,” noted Vivian.Biosimilars for Genentech’s Actemra (tocilizumab), a medication for rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis, and Stelara (ustekinumab), Janssen’s immunosuppressive drug for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, are also two or three years away.”

Patient and provider comfort with biosimilars is still a “critical barrier” to the adoption of biosimilars, she said.

Switching therapies in patients who are stable on the biosimilar’s reference product to the biosimilar is not typically recommended, according to Vivian. “So from a clinical perspective, we need to be cautious in implementing strategies that force these types of switching.”Instead, she said, “what we really need is data showing that there’s really no additional risk from switching therapies in these hard-to-treat or hard-to-control chronic diseases. That’s going to really increase the confidence for prescribers to start using biosimilars in … those stable patients.”

Another barrier is a lack of interchangeability in biosimilars, with notable exception of Semglee (insulin glargine-yfgn), which was FDA-approved as biosimilar to, and interchangeable with Lantus (insulin glargine) this summer. In order to demonstrate interchangeability, studies must show there is no additional risk or reduced efficacy if a patient switches back and forth between the interchangeable biosimilar and the reference product.

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