What We're Reading: FTC Launches PBM Inquiry; FDA Advisers Recommend Novavax; Drug Prices Soar

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an inquiry into the practices of pharmacy benefit managers; FDA advisers overwhelmingly support approval of Novavax, a new COVID-19 vaccine; drug prices soar to 20% annual inflation.

FTC Opens Inquiry Into PBMs

The 6 largest pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) will have to provide information and records on their business practices due to a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) inquiry. The inquiry will look into the impact of vertically integrated pharmacy benefit managers on the access and affordability of prescription drugs. The 6 pharmacy benefit managers in question—CVS Caremark; Express Scripts, Inc.; OptumRx, Inc.; Humana Inc.; Prime Therapeutics LLC; and MedImpact Healthcare Systems, Inc.—have been sent compulsory orders by the FTC. The inquiry hopes to shine a light on fees and clawbacks charged to pharmacies, methods to steer patients toward pharmacy benefit manager-owned pharmacies, unfair audits of independent pharmacies, and complicated methods to determine pharmacy reimbursement among others.

FDA Advisers Recommend Novavax Vaccine

Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine received overwhelming approval from the experts who advise the FDA on drug and vaccine approvals, according to Stat News. The vote, which was 21 to 0 in favor, will recommend that the FDA grant the vaccine an emergency use authorization. This vote suggests that Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine will soon become available in the United States after its approval in 40 other countries worldwide. This vaccine does not use messenger RNA as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do. However, it had been held up in its authorization in the United States due to lack of consistency in manufacturing.

Drug Prices Soar to $180,000 Per Year

The annual inflation rate for new drug prices has soared to 20%, with a median launch price of a new drug in the US increasing from $2115 in 2008 to $180,007 in 2021, according to Bloomberg. The annual inflation rate in launch prices was almost 11% after adjustment of factors like drugmakers’ focus on expensive diseases, such as cancer, and estimated discounts from manufacturers. In a study published in JAMA, the researchers found that 47% of new drugs introduced in 2020 and 2021 cost more than $150,000 per year, an increase from the 9% of drugs introduced from 2008 to 2013.