Midweek update

Photo by Hugo Clément on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • STAT New reports,
    • “The White House is throwing its support behind a controversial authority that allows the government to claw back patents for certain high-priced medicines, according to three sources familiar with the plans. It’s an early step that could have major ramifications for the American pharmaceutical industry, depending on whether and how federal officials actually use the authority.
    • “The administration will on Thursday issue a framework for the National Institutes of Health to more broadly use so-called “march-in rights” — a policy that allows it to seize patents from drugmakers whose products rely on federally funded research, according to the three people familiar with the plans. The framework will lay out when the agency might assert this authority, and endorse using a drug’s price in that determination, the sources said. * * *
    • “[T]he framework will likely include a number of conditions limiting its use, two sources said. The public — including pharmaceutical companies — will also get the chance to weigh in on the idea before it is finalized.”
    • Neverthless, the FEHBlog hears the litigation turbobillers revving up.
  • American Hospital Association News tells us,
    • “A bipartisan group of senators this week introduced the Protect Rural Seniors’ Access to Care Act, AHA-supported legislation that would prohibit the Health and Human Services Secretary from finalizing a proposed rule on minimum staffing for long-term care facilities.
    • “AHA has urged the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services not to finalize the rule and instead develop more patient- and workforce-centered approaches focused on ensuring a continual process of safe staffing in nursing facilities.
    • “Over 90 organizations have endorsed the bill, introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Jon Tester, D-Mont., James Lankford, R-Okla., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine.
    • “Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., introduced a House version of the bill in September.”
    •  Fingers crossed for the bill to enacted. The HHS rule is short sighted.

In FEHB Open Season news, Govexec, Federal News Network, and FedWeek offer tips for last-minute shoppers as we approach the end of the Federal Benefits Open Season next Monday. What’s more, FedWeek offers advice on protecting your survivor’s access to FEHB coverage.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Covid-19 test positivity rates increased over the summer and then stabilized earlier this fall. They have recently ticked back up, rising 1.2% for the latest week, according to the CDC’s most recent data. Emergency department visits and hospitalizations are up about 10% over the same period. 
    • “Scientists and public-health officials say that data understates the current virus spread and point to elevated levels of the virus detected in wastewater. Wastewater levels are an early warning for infections, with levels up nationally since mid-October. * * *
    • [Variant] JN.1 * * * is growing rapidly on a global level, says Jesse Bloom, a virologist and professor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. It has quickly spread in countries such as France and England. JN.1 has been detected in the U.S., though only as a blip.
    • Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina, a scientific adviser to the CDC and author of the “Your Local Epidemiologist” newsletter [available on Substack], says that while JN.1 isn’t growing as fast as the original Omicron in the winter of 2021-22, its current rate of growth could fuel a wave in Covid-19 cases. 
    • “If that rate continues, we should see dominance in the U.S. around Christmastime, which means that it would really jump-start a wave around New Year’s,” she says.
    • The good news, says Bloom, is that research indicates the new booster—developed to protect against the XBB variants that were dominant this summer—appears to work for the more mutated newer variants, too.
  • Here’s a link to the National Cancer Institute’s research newsletter.
  • Beckers Hospital Review informs us,
    • “More than a third of mothers — around 40 million women — are affected by lingering health issues after giving birth, according to a new study published Dec. 6 in The Lancet Global Health.
    • “However, many of the issues they report experiencing after giving birth extend long after they stop receiving postpartum care, which is where the major issues lie, according to the researchers.
    • “The authors found that after giving birth, 32% of women report low back pain, 19% experience anal incontinence, 11% experience perineal pain, 8-31% are affected by urinary incontinence, and around 11% are affected by secondary infertility issues. Mental health issues like anxiety and depression are also pervasive.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Bloomberg reports,
    • Eli Lilly & Co.’s new weight-loss drug Zepbound is now available at US pharmacies, offering an alternative to rival medications like Novo Nordisk A/S’s Wegovy as supply issues persist. 
    • “Zepbound was approved by the US Food and Drug Administrationin early November as a treatment for people with obesity. Patients with a prescription from their doctor will now be able to get the drug, which was added to the list of available drugs for Express Scripts and Cigna Healthcare this month, Lilly said in a statement Tuesday.”
  • BioPharma Dive points out,
    • “AbbVie is restocking its drug pipeline in a big way, announcing Wednesday an $8.7 billion deal to buy neuroscience-focused Cerevel Therapeutics, just days after agreeing to a similar sized acquisition of the cancer biotechnology company ImmunoGen.
    • “Per the deal, AbbVie will pay $45 per share of Cerevel, which is developing medicines for schizophrenia, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. The buyout price is 22% higher than Cerevel stock’s closing price Wednesday and 73% above what shares closed at Friday, before rumors of a pending deal emerged. 
    • “Both companies’ boards of directors have agreed to the acquisition, which they expect will close sometime around the middle of next year.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Elevance Health’s pharmacy benefit manager is launching a new digital pharmacy that aims to make it easier for members to track their prescriptions.
    • “CarelonRx Pharmacy will launch on Jan. 1, and members will be able to connect with pharmacists via text, chat or phone around the clock. The platform will also allow them to check the price of medications for comparison and track their prescriptions throughout the order process, similar to how a customer may follow a pizza order.
    • “The pharmacy will also use push notifications to keep members up-to-date on their prescriptions and will allow them to use text messaging to connect directly with representatives.”
  • and
    • “Many of the past year’s buzziest topics and omnipresent struggles will likely rear their heads as major talking points across 2024, per the year-ahead predictions of Deloitte’s healthcare industry heads.
    • “A disruptive pandemic, rapid digital transformation and mounting cost pressures have taken their toll on the industry’s decisionmakers, Deloitte’s healthcare sector leader Tina Wheeler and senior manager of its health solutions center Wendy Gerhardt wrote in a Wednesday outlook writeup.
    • “The pair highlighted a recent annual survey of 60 executives that found that only 3% of health system executives and 7% of health plan executives had a “positive” outlook for the coming year—down from the respective 15% and 40% of the prior year’s survey.
    • “However, there are some bright spots to consider as the industry undergoes convergence,” which the authors described as “the disruption of traditional health care stakeholders, entrance of new players like retailers and tech companies and the reassembly of a new ecosystem that creates opportunities.”
  • Health Payer Intelligence lets us know,
    • “Cardiovascular, diabetes, and obesity treatments are a critical part of women’s health, and employers can take steps to ensure that women have access to information and care related to their hearts, a flipbook from Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) emphasized.
    • “With women comprising more than half of today’s workforce, employers are making women’s health and well-being a top priority, and rightfully so,” Candice Sherman, chief of executive officer of NEBGH, said in the press release.
    • “Cardiovascular disease in women is underdiagnosed and undertreated. Employers can play an important role in raising awareness and educating employees about heart disease and risk factors like diabetes and obesity as well as providing wellness and benefit programs that support women’s health. We developed this guide to give employers a tool to develop ways to improve the overall heart health of their workforce.”