December 3, 2006

BECAUSE I'M WORTH IT:

Specialty drugs seen driving up premiums (Jeffrey Krasner, December 4, 2006, Boston Globe)

The number of specialty drugs being developed is on the rise, and existing ones are being prescribed for a wider range of conditions. Some cost as much as $200,000 a year per patient. [...]

Last year, specialty drugs accounted for 5 percent -- or $450 million -- of Blue Cross's medical expenses . Nationwide, they accounted for 19 percent -- about $40 billion -- of pharmaceutical spending , according to Express Scripts, which manages prescription programs. By 2009, the figure is expected to reach $90 billion -- 28 percent of all drug expenditures in the United States.

The insurance industry describes specialty drugs as biotechnology treatments that involve genetic engineering, cancer medications that must be given to patients in doctors' offices or clinics, unique treatments for extremely rare diseases, and other high-cost remedies.

"The specialty-drug slice of the pie is growing fast. It's only about half of 1 percent of all pharmacy [prescriptions], but it accounts for as much as 13 percent of pharmacy costs," Connell said.

MORE:
End of Drug Trial Is a Big Loss for Pfizer and Heart Patients (ALEX BERENSON, 12/04/06, NY Times)

The news came to Pfizer’s chief scientist, Dr. John L. LaMattina, as he was showering at 7 a.m. Saturday: the company’s most promising experimental drug, intended to treat heart disease, actually caused an increase in deaths and heart problems. Eighty-two people had died so far in a clinical trial, versus 51 people in the same trial who had not taken it.

Within hours, Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, told more than 100 trial investigators to stop giving patients the drug, called torcetrapib. Shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday, Pfizer announced that it had pulled the plug on the medicine entirely, turning the company’s nearly $1 billion investment in it into a total loss. [...]

“I’m terribly disappointed,” said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and lead investigator of an earlier torcetrapib clinical trial. “This drug, if it worked, would probably have been the largest-selling pharmaceutical in history.”

For people with heart disease, torcetrapib’s failure means that progress may be slowing after two decades of substantial advances against the disease. Medicines to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol are already effective and widely used, yet heart disease remains the biggest cause of death in the United States, killing 911,000 people in 2003, according to the American Heart Association.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 3, 2006 11:03 PM
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