In the inextirpable words of pop singer Sia, “we got stamina,” but, perhaps not as much stamina as FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. The FDA had another busy week: recalling Ritz crackers and goldfish, committing to create a modernized definition of what is a “dairy product,” and approving new magnetic systems to prevent breast cancer patients from being exposed to excessive radioactive materials during biopsies.
MESSAGE TO SCOTT: Well done, but it’s August. Please take a vacation man, and give us a break!
With that, let’s see what else was cooking in healthcare last week …
- “All the insurance companies are going wild,” according to President Trump. What has insurance companies partying like its spring break? Associated health plans, according to POTUS. The President revealed last week that new associated health insurance plans will launch in September. These plans will allow small businesses and other groups to band together to buy health insurance, and are part of Administration efforts to offer slimmed-down, cheaper plans as an alternative to Obamacare. POTUS says they will be “much less expensive” and “cost our country nothing.”
- From clinic to cloud: The Google Cloud Team announced that former Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove will be joining as an executive adviser to its healthcare and life sciences divisions – marking yet another hospital executive moving to Google.
- GSK goes all in on genes: GlaxoSmithKline is betting $300M and 4 years on genetic testing company 23andMe. It says the genetics startup will help advance understanding and treatments for genetic-based diseases, including Parkinson’s.
- Defeat or victory? In the Everest climb that is the search for an effective Alzheimer’s drug; developers Biogen and Eisai made it to base camp this week, but were seemingly punished for success. Their Alzheimer's candidate BAN2401 failed its primary endpoints, but the high dose showed cognitive benefits – making it the first drug to achieve this in a large clinical trial. KOLs were heartened, but analysts were harsh, sending the companies’ stocks down for missing the endpoint.
- “Stay in your car” is the message the National Transportation Safety Board is sending to thousands of consumers who are recording themselves jumping out of their cars and doing the “shiggy” (a dance) to Drake’s new hit single, “In My Feelings.” We echo the NTSB #stayinyourcar.
Read on for more of The Week That Was…
►PSA, TAKE DEUX?
For years, Purdue Pharma argued that its painkiller OxyContin was safe when patients used the drug as directed. The company claimed that the deaths linked to OxyContin were related to the small number of people who inappropriately abused the drug to get high. As the opioid epidemic escalated and public attention turned to opioid makers, Purdue opposed restrictions on the drug, claiming that it would de-legitimize and stigmatize patients who rely on the product for pain relief. Fast forward to last week: Purdue released a full-page open letter in The Washington Post outlining its efforts to curb the epidemic. Tucked in paragraph 2 was a warning that the effect on patients taking opioids as prescribed can even be dangerous. The advertisement was recalled and republished a few days later in the Washington Post without the phrase “even when taken as prescribed.” Proof-reader, anyone?
Trial attorneys are salivating everywhere, as Purdue seemingly admitted its accountability for contributing to opioid addiction in writing. The company declined to comment on the PSA re-do, but third-party groups, including Andrew Kolodny of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing said Purdue has never spoken this way before and the backtrack is disappointing. Purdue is indubitably taking real efforts to address the epidemic with commitments that include: not marketing to doctors, supporting Naloxone rescue medications in communities, and encouraging Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to mitigate illicit use. Yet, it’s an unforced error that we’re focusing on this week.
►WHAT MATTERS IN POLITICS: IT IS ALL ABOUT ME
With 99 days left to the mid-terms, guess what the most important healthcare issue is for American voters! Give up? The answer is: a candidate’s position on preserving insurance guarantees for pre-existing conditions. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Health Tracking poll released last week, coverage for pre-existing conditions topped other elements of the ACA, and even took precedence over drug pricing. Meanwhile, a separate poll issued by Politico showed that many Americans favor key elements of the President’s Blueprint to lower drug prices – including more competition from generics and including list prices in DTC ads. But, spoiler alert: only 22 percent believe the Blueprint or its core elements will actually lower prices.
Policy becomes important to voters as it impacts their daily lives. Since the ACA’s introduction in 2010, guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions has been its most popular feature. As the Administration seeks to roll out association health plans, we predict a future of more low-cost, “sparse” plans that offer some coverage, but which may not be “right-sized” for patient needs, and may price sicker patients with pre-existing conditions out of the private insurance market.
So what should life science companies do? These trends present an opportunity and an imperative: seek to offer and align with initiatives to support broader access to treatment. And while the pharmaceutical industry continues to be viewed as the one responsible for high drug prices, communicating steps to lessen or offset the cost impact to patients remains an early way to neutralize criticism.