Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The Hill reports,
    • “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday said he is “pleased” with Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) plan to avoid a government shutdown.
    • “Schumer noted that Johnson’s “laddered” stopgap spending bill — which funds four bills through Jan. 19 and the remaining eight through Feb. 2 — is “far from perfect,” but indicated the “clean” measure provides a path to funding the government for the next two months.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services tells us,
    • “Today, amid new data released on substance use across the nation, the Biden-Harris Administration reiterated President Biden’s clear and urgent call for Congress to provide critical additional resources to strengthen addiction treatment and crack down on drug trafficking.
    • “Today’s new data from the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show there were more than 48 million Americans who experienced a substance use disorder in 2022. Of the 48 million Americans struggling with substance use disorder, three out of every four did not get treatment. While the Biden-Harris Administration has made historic progress in expanding access to life-saving public health services and stopping the flow of illicit drugs like fentanyl into American communities, the nation is facing an unprecedented epidemic that requires the full support and funding of Congress.”
  • Govexec informs us,
    • “The Office of Personnel Management on Thursday released new guidance spelling out ways that federal agencies can implement a recent executive order aimed at making it easier for military spouses to have a career in public service. * * *
    • “In a memo to agency heads, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said the government’s forthcoming strategic plan for hiring and retaining military spouses will be released later this year. But in the meantime, she offered a few avenues where agencies can take action now to improve their performance on the issue.”

In FEHB news, The Federal Times, Govexec, Federal News Network, and FedSmith offer advice to participants in the Federal Benefits Open Season.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The gap in life expectancy between men and women in the United States grew to its widest in nearly 30 years, driven mainly by more men dying of Covid and drug overdoses, according to a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
    • “In 2021, women had a life expectancy of 79.3 years, compared with 73.5 years for men, the study found.
    • “It was unsettling to see,” said Dr. Brandon Yan, a resident physician at the University of California, San Francisco, and lead author of the study, which analyzed death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • “We need to understand which groups are particularly losing out on years of life expectancy so interventions can be at least partially focused on these groups,” Dr. Yan said.”
  • STAT News adds,
    • “The decline in life expectancy in the U.S. suggests that advancements in medical treatment are no longer sufficient to counter ongoing public health crises, Yan said. “We have a health care system that is very advanced in treating illnesses and advanced disease. But for the most part … it is not very good when it comes to preventative care.”
  • FEHBlog note — The English were tracking life expectancy in the late 1600s.
  • Last week, the Times of London reported,
    • “Thousands of women will avoid suffering breast cancer after a pill that costs 4p a day was approved as a preventive treatment for the disease.
    • “Almost 300,000 women at higher risk will be eligible for anastrozole, which studies have shown can nearly halve the chances of developing breast cancer if taken daily for five years.
    • “Campaigners hailed the approval as a “major step forward” in efforts to tackle the disease, which is Britain’s most common cancer, with 47,000 new diagnoses each year. Until yesterday, anastrozole had been licensed for use in Britain only as a treatment, rather than a preventive measure.
    • “NHS England said 289,000 women in their 50s and 60s at moderate or high risk of breast cancer would now be eligible for the drug. They will include women with a family history of the disease, or who have faulty genes such as BRCA1, the so-called Jolie gene, that put them at greater risk.”
  • STAT News adds today,
    • “Like the better-known tamoxifen, anastrozole was first used to treat breast cancer. Then, because risk doesn’t end with treatment, the hormone-blocking drug was also prescribed to prevent cancer’s return. Ten years ago, after a clinical trial showed convincingly that the drug could prevent breast cancer, U.S. oncologists began prescribing it off-label. In the U.K., anastrozole got the nod for this use last week from the country’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. * * *
    • “The two drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for prevention, tamoxifen and raloxifene, reduce estrogen in different ways but offer the same kind of protection. Brewster said they are used more often in the U.S. than anastrozole, possibly because of milder side effects. * * *
    • “These prevention drugs themselves are not without risk. As [Dr. Abenaa] Brewster [a professor of clinical cancer prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center] puts it, there’s no such thing as free lunch, and when patients are healthy, their tolerance for side effects is understandably lower than when they are in treatment for active disease. Most women tolerate tamoxifen well, but there are rare side effects of uterine cancer or blood clots. Some patients taking anastrozole and raloxifene experience joint stiffness, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, or bone thinning.”
  • The New York Times Morning column observes,
    • “The changing nature of the drug crisis was predictable, because drug use is historically faddish. In the 1970s, America struggled with heroin. In the ’80s, it was cocaine. In the ’90s and early 2000s, meth. Since then, opioids have taken off.
    • “One explanation for this is what’s known as generational forgetting: Young people tend to avoid the drug that is currently causing a crisis. But because they don’t have personal experiences with the drugs that caused harm before their time, they are more willing to use those substances.
    • “Different drugs can also complement each other, and so their popularity can rise simultaneously. Opioids, for example, often cause users to doze off, which can leave those who live on the streets vulnerable to theft or rape. So opioid users sometimes use stimulants, like meth and cocaine, to stay awake. And if they receive treatment for opioid addiction, they may continue using stimulants.
    • “All of this leads to a revolving door for different kinds of drug crises. It has happened before, and it is happening again.
    • Read Jan’s full story, which includes details about the rise of a kind of meth so pure that some are calling it “super meth.”
  • Mercer Consulting offers a Q&A about weight loss medications with their pharmacy team.
    • Do these medications have an ROI? When might plan sponsors expect to see benefits from treating obesity as a chronic disease?
    • Jon Lewis, Mercer Rx Financial Leader:  These medications represent a big investment. While everyone talks about the high list prices, it is worth noting something fairly unique here. We do have manufacturer competition which means rebates are playing a role and should be monitored.  
    • In general though, we are looking at somewhere between three to five years before you start to realize any savings. Those who are at higher risk – for example, people with a higher BMI – are likely to produce more savings. With that said, changing eligibility to a narrower BMI does have a rebate impact and should be incorporated into any weight loss strategy. 
    • But these drugs are costly. You would have to have someone who is on the drug long enough to achieve the weight loss, still be employed, and still be maintaining that weight loss over the course of three to five years to see an ROI or some form of savings. 
  • Beckers Hospital Review discusses rural hospitals’ maternity care crisis.
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “Peanut-allergic toddlers who stayed on an investigational, epicutaneous immunotherapy skin patch reached higher levels of peanut tolerance during the second year, according to the open-label extension of the EPITOPE trial.”Peanut-allergic toddlers who stayed on an investigational, epicutaneous immunotherapy skin patch reached higher levels of peanut tolerance during the second year, according to the open-label extension of the EPITOPE trial.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • MedTech Dive points out,
    • “More complete data from a clinical trial of Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy weight loss drug have rekindled the debate over how the treatment will affect patient demand for medical devices and procedures.
    • “The findings from the SELECT study, presented at a major heart meetingover the weekend, showed a 20% reduction in risk on a composite goal of heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular death, compared to a placebo, in overweight and obese patients with heart disease. But the data were inconclusive on a narrower measure of cardiovascular death alone.
    • “The data overall confirm a cardiovascular benefit for patients, but mixed results on secondary endpoints do not alter the outlook for heart device makers such as Boston Scientific, Medtronic and Edwards Lifesciences, Mizuho analyst Anthony Petrone said Monday in a report to clients.”
    • “At first blush, we see the final SELECT data as neutral for cardiovascular names,” he wrote.
  • BioPharma Dive informs us,
    • “Novartis is deepening its investment in cancer cell therapy, licensing an experimental project developed by Legend Biotech that is in early-stage trials for two types of lung cancer, the smaller company said Monday.
    • “Novartis will pay Legend $100 million upfront to secure rights to the cell therapy, called LB2102, and could send Legend up to $1 billion more if clinical, regulatory and commercial milestones are met. Legend will complete Phase 1 testing, after which Novartis will assume development responsibilities.
    • “Legend said Novartis may use in its development plan its new T-Charge manufacturing platform, which aims to reduce the time it takes to make cancer-fighting cells outside the body as well as improve their durability. Cell therapies like Novartis’ Kymriah can induce long-lasting responses in patients, but they require a weeks long manufacturing process that carries the risk of failure or patient progression.”