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February 15, 2019

Biologics, Diabetes, Cancer Drugs on House Oversight Probe List

Allison Inserro
Price information about biologics, diabetes, and cancer drugs are among the dozen that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, led by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland, is probing.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is delving into the prescription drug industry’s pricing practices, launching an investigation into “communications on price increases, investments in research and development, and corporate strategies to preserve market share and pricing power.” 

According to a release from the committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland, the committee chair, sent letters to a dozen drug companies and will also hold hearings about the issue. He is focusing on drugs that are among the costliest to Medicare Part D, are among the costliest per beneficiary, or had the largest price increases over a 5-year period.

The drugs include AbbVie’s brand-name adalimumab, Humira, and Amgen’s etanercept, Enbrel. The Center for Biosimilars® noted that all of the drugs are the targets of as-yet unrealized biosimilar and follow-on competition.

In addition, the committee has requested information about the diabetes drugs insulin lispro (Eli Lilly’s Humalog), insulin glargine (Sanofi’s Lantus), and insulin aspart (Novo Nordisk’s NovoLog).

Earlier this week, the editor-in-chief of Evidence-Based Diabetes Management™, Robert A. Gabbay, MD, PhD, FACP, told The Washington Post that "rising insulin prices are a tragic barrier to care.” Some patients are rationing or skipping their insulin, leading to some deaths. 

Cummings previously asked for an investigation into insulin prices in 2016.

Last year, a medical official with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) told a Senate committee that transparency across the insulin supply chain is needed to crack the mystery of rising costs. William T. Cefalu, MD, chief scientific, medical, and mission officer for ADA, told the Special Senate Committee on Aging that diabetes is now “the most expensive chronic illness in America,” as the updated total features $31 billion for medication, including $15 billion for insulin.

Cummings’ committee also requested information about Mallinckrodt’s adrenocorticotropic hormone, H.P. Acthar, which is used to treat infantile spasms. According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General, in 2007 the list price was raised by nearly 1300%, from $1650 to over $23,000 per vial.

Other drugs on the list include Teva’s glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) for multiple sclerosis, Johnson & Johnson’s ibrutnib (Imbruvica) for lymphoma, and Novartis’ imatinib (Gleevec) for cancer.

The committee cited projections from CMS that spending on prescription drugs will increase more rapidly than any other part of the healthcare sector over the next 10 years. The United States is projected to spend $99 billion on Medicare Part D in 2019. In 2016, the 20 most expensive drugs to Medicare Part D accounted for roughly $37.7 billion in spending.

A recent Associated Press analysis found that more than 4400 brand-name drugs increased in price in the first 7 months of 2018 alone, compared with 46 price decreases.

 
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