Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, the Hill catches us up on the news surrounding the continuing resolution funding the federal government through December 16. The CR remains on track to be signed into law by the weekend. Here are links to the Senate Appropriations Committees’ text of the continuing resolution, which is a substitute for HR and a section-by-section bill summary.

From the Omicron and siblings front, David Leonhardt, writing in his Morning column for the New York Times, answers current questions about Covid vaccinations and boosters.

From the Rx coverage front, Fierce Pharma reports

Japanese ophthalmology specialist Santen has earned an FDA approval for its eye drops. The U.S. regulator has signed off on Santen’s Omlonti to reduce elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) in patients with glaucoma or ocular hypertension. Santen developed the drug, otherwise known as omidenepag isopropyl ophthalmic solution, along with another century-old Japanese firm, UBE Industries of Tokyo.

As a selective prostaglandin EP2 receptor agonist, Omlonti provides patients with primary open-angle glaucoma or ocular hypertension—both of which can cause blindness—a treatment with a unique mechanism of action, Santen said. 

“This approval is an important milestone in our ambition to tackle unmet needs in eye health,” Peter Sallstig, the chief medical officer of Santen, said in a release.

Known as Eybelis in Japan, the drops won approval there in 2018. On top of that, five more countries in Asia sanctioned the treatment last year. It is Santen’s first glaucoma offering in the U.S. Approximately 3 million people in the U.S. and 76 million worldwide have the two conditions, with numbers increasing as the global population ages, Santen said.

In other FDA developments, the agency today announced

proposed updated criteria for when foods can be labeled with the nutrient content claim “healthy” on their packaging. This proposed rule would align the definition of the “healthy” claim with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans

More than 80% of people in the U.S. aren’t eating enough vegetables, fruit and dairy. And most people consume too much added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. The proposed rule is part of the agency’s ongoing commitment to helping consumers improve nutrition and dietary patterns to help reduce the burden of chronic disease and advance health equity. 

From the healthcare technology front, Fierce Healthcare tells us

Cigna is launching a new concierge care platform that aims to harness both the strengths of its health plan and its sister company, Evernorth.

The new offering, called Pathwell, integrates Evernorth’s data analytics, clinical expertise and digital solutions with the medical benefits and network of its health plan with the goal of providing a personalized, comprehensive care experience for members who are managing high-cost conditions. Pathwell will first target patients with musculoskeletal conditions and patients who take injectable or infused biologic drugs.

The Cigna team expects to build Pathwell out to other conditions in the future. The solution is now available in many U.S. commercial plans and will grow over the course of 2023.

Shawna Dodds, vice president of product development at Cigna, told Fierce Healthcare that combining the powers of the health plan and Evernorth allows the insurer to offer the choices members need to take charge of managing their own conditions.

“It’s combining the strategic assets that exist across those two companies to really bring the integrated experience to the consumer,” she said.

From the drug research front, STAT News warns that the positive trial results on Biogen’s new Alzheimer’s drug are not a reason by itself to pop the Champagne bottles.

The trumpeting from the companies Eisai and Biogen relied on data that showed that people receiving the therapy, lecanemab, saw a slower decline versus those on a placebo. That finding was based on a .45-point difference between the groups on an 18-point scale called the Clinical Dementia Rating sum of boxes, amounting to a 27% reduction in the rate of cognitive decline.

But translating what that statistical gobbledygook could mean for patients living with Alzheimer’s is a different challenge, one that physicians will have to navigate as they weigh whether to prescribe the treatment (presuming it wins regulatory approval) and for which patients.

The clinical significance of the trial data — as opposed to the statistical significance, which was proven by the study — will continue to be debated among neurologists and geriatricians as lecanemab moves through the regulatory approval process and into doctors’ offices. Insurers could also weigh in, assessing how widely they’re willing to cover the treatment and for which patients based on what kind of perceptible outcomes they think the data point to.

After all, what people want from any Alzheimer’s therapy is not measured by some “sum of boxes” or questionnaire but by the details of an individual life. Would this mean they could keep driving or working? Could they keep taking the dog for a walk without their family worrying about them getting lost? Could they hold on to the knowledge of who those family members are — and who they themselves are — for longer?

Mia Yang, a geriatrician at Wake Forest, noted that the impact of a .45-point difference on the scale depended on where someone was. Someone with a CDR score of 0.5, for example, might have some memory problems but could still keep up with daily activities. Someone with a score of 1, however, might start encountering some functional losses.

A half-point difference wouldn’t mean much for someone with more advanced Alzheimer’s, Yang said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that it could be potentially meaningful for those folks who are in the mild stage,” Yang said about lecanemab. Indeed, the trial focused on people with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

From the US healthcare business front, Beckers Hospital CFO Report explores why nine hospitals closed this year. “From cash flow and staffing challenges to dwindling patient volumes, many factors lead hospitals to shut down.”

From the federal employee benefits front, Reg Jones, writing in Fedweek, discusses the Federal Employee Group Life Insurance Program known as FEGLI.