Top Stories in Business & Health for June 11, 2017

Pfizer raises prices on 91 drugs in second round of increases this year

While other leading drug companies are pledging to hold their price increases to single digits and releasing pricing transparency reports to the public, on June 1 Pfizer unabashedly raised the wholesale price on 91 of its drugs—the second set of increases so far this year, Financial Times reported. The most recent set of price increases ranged from 5 percent to 13 percent per drug and included erectile dysfunction drug Viagra (sildenafil) and Lyrica (pregabalin), an anti-convulsant also used to treat pain. Along with Pfizer’s January price hikes, the average increase per drug this year is now at 20 percent, according to Financial Times. Viagra’s price increased both times, for a total increase of 27.5 percent—from an average wholesale price of $57.94 per 100 mg tablet to $73.85. FiercePharma pointed out that generic versions of Viagra are slated to hit the market in December when Pfizer’s patent exclusivity runs out.  


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HomeHero rebranded into virtual integrative medicine business called ‘Harvey’

After announcing in February that they were shutting down HomeHero, the founders of the venture-backed home care startup decided to use their remaining capital to create Harvey, an integrative medicine company that offers “virtual consultations with functional and naturopathic doctors, advanced in-lab testing and natural treatments to help patients with chronic health conditions optimize their health, wellness and quality of life.” Harvey integrates complementary and alternative medicine, nutrition, specialized lab tests for micronutrients, allergies, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and hormonal and adrenal deficiencies, and other “nontraditional” practices into more conventional “Western” approaches to treating chronic disease. 


Department of Veterans Affairs switches to Cerner

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will be replacing the VistA electronic health record (EHR) system it currently uses with a commercial system the Department of Defense (DOD) uses. VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said it would take three to six months to plan the implementation of the new system, which will be based on Cerner Millennium software. The project is estimated to cost three to four times more than the $4.3 billion the Pentagon has already spent on the DOD’s system. When both EHR systems have been fully implemented, all data for active duty military personnel and veterans will reside on a common system, facilitating care between the two departments and allowing the seamless exchange of information, Dr. Shulkin said in a news release. He noted that the VA has been using the VistA system since the 1970s. 


J&J drug posts impressive results for prostate cancer

New clinical trial results for Johnson & Johnson's Zytiga (abiraterone acetate) could change early treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer. Currently, androgen-deprivation therapy (ADT) is the standard of care for these patients. Zytiga is approved as a second-line therapy in combination with prednisone for patients with metastatic castration-resistant disease. Two recent studies, however, demonstrate that Zytiga can benefit men with newly diagnosed advanced prostate cancer. In the LATITUDE study, Zytiga in combination with ADT and prednisone reduced the risk of death by 38 percent compared with ADT plus dual placebos in patients with newly diagnosed, metastatic, castration-sensitive prostate cancer. Moreover, the median length of progression-free survival was 33 months on the Zytiga regimen versus 14.8 months on the ADT-only regimen. In the STAMPEDE study, the overall three-year survival rate among men with locally advanced or metastatic prostate cancer was 83 percent for those who received the combination therapy containing Zytiga and 76 percent among those who received ADT only. Findings from the trials were presented earlier this month at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting and were published online June 3 and June 4, ahead of print, by The New England Journal of Medicine. Bloomberg reported that Zytiga generated $2.26 billion in sales for J&J in 2016. 


Update: New Strategic Alliances 

Premier Health and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield are collaborating to bring value-based health care to southwestern Ohio. The joint effort centers on providing health care professionals with enhanced data and analytics to better coordinate patient care, focus on preventive care, manage chronic disease and lower costs, according to the companies. The arrangement includes members of Anthem’s employer-based, individual and Medicare Advantage health plans. Anthem is the state’s largest commercial insurer, and Premier Health is the largest health system in the southwestern region of Ohio. In separate news, Anthem announced that it is exiting Ohio’s ACA marketplace, citing volatility stemming from regulatory uncertainty as a factor in the decision. Unless another insurer fills the void, 20 rural Ohio counties will have no exchange options in 2018. 

Hackensack Meridian Health is working with IBM Watson Health and Cota Healthcare to develop new oncology decision support technology. The objective is to improve cancer treatments and reduce patient costs. Oncologists at Hackensack Meridian will use outcomes data provided by Cota to establish benchmark data and embed patient classification into Watson for Oncology, Becker’s Hospital Review explained. Then, Watson for Oncology will be used to “contextualize” treatment planning and identify and rank treatment options. The second phase of the pilot program will feature evidence-based treatment recommendations and care paths, along with payment assignments.  

Scripps Health and Qualcomm Inc. established a strategic alliance to offer custom health plans to Qualcomm’s San Diego-based employees and eligible dependents next year. Qualcomm is the first employer in San Diego to contract with Scripps ACO on this type of offering. Qualcomm stated in a news release that the custom plan options would focus on quality of care, enhanced electronic scheduling and messaging with health professionals, “concierge-level” navigation, scheduling and billing support, minimal wait times for physician appointments and published prices for frequently used services.

CVS Health and Cigna launched a personalized health and wellness program for members of Cigna’s self-funded employer-sponsored health plans. Cigna Health Works is designed to help members get the most from their health benefits at local CVS pharmacies. Features of the program include personalized pharmacy support, contracted discounts at CVS MinuteClinics for select preventive and acute care services, and a CVS ExtraCare Health card that provides a 20 percent discount on CVS Health brand over-the-counter health-related products. The program will also send electronic documentation of members’ CVS MinuteClinic visits to physicians and give members who lack a primary care physician a list of in-network providers.