NY Times: Humira’s Best-Selling Drug Formula: Start at a High Price. Go Higher.

NY Times: Humira’s Best-Selling Drug Formula: Start at a High Price. Go Higher.

An excerpt:

Humira is the best-selling prescription drug in the world…The price of Humira, an anti-inflammatory drug dispensed in an injectable pen, has risen from about $19,000 a year in 2012, to more than $38,000 today, per patient, after rebates, according to SSR Health, a research firm. That’s an increase of 100 percent…

How much you actually pay out of pocket, and whether you can afford Humira at all, depend on your insurance and eligibility for discounts…

Humira, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of AbbVie’s $25.6 billion in revenue in 2016, was not simple to develop. It is among a new class of drugs known as biologics, which are made from living cells rather than synthetic chemicals…

Looking at the international picture tells its own story about drug costs. A prefilled carton with two syringes costs $2,669 in the United States, compared with $1,362 in Britain, $822 in Switzerland and $552 in South Africa…

An analysis by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review found that Humira’s list price would need to be discounted by at least 55 percent to be cost effective for rheumatoid arthritis, its originally approved use.

Dr. Steven D. Pearson, the founder of the institute, which provides cost benefit data to health plans, said competing drugs were overpriced as well.

“Even in a space like this, where there is a lot of competition, we don’t see the prices coming down,” he said. “That speaks to the fact that it doesn’t often function like a free market usually would.”..

AbbVie joined a few of its rivals in saying it would limit price increases to single digits this year, and so only raised Humira by another 9.7 percent this month, roughly four and a half times the inflation rate. For the drug industry, that counts as generosity.

My take: Humira is a very important and effective medication, particularly for inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. I infer from this article which compares the Humira pricing strategy to that used by Martin Shkreli that if U.S. consumers are to have more affordable pharmaceuticals, government intervention will be needed. AbbVie, like many other pharmaceutical companies, will continue to aggressively price Humira; after all, 8 billion in profits is not as good as 10 billion.

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Tofacitinib -Risks and Benefits in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Previously Tofacitnib, an oral Janus kinase inhibitor, has shown promise as an emerging treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (Tofacitinib –a JAK Inhibitor for UC | gutsandgrowth).  So, a recent large study in tofacitinib use in rheumatoid arthritis caught my attention, specifically with regards to the potential risks of treatment (NEJM 2014; 370: 2377-86).

This double-blind study randomly assigned 958 patients (mean age ~49 years) to receive 5 mg or 10 mg of tofacitinib twice daily or weekly methotrexate.  This study, called ORAL Start, examined the effectiveness of these drugs over a 24 month period in patients with active moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis naive to therapeutic doses of methotrexate.

Key findings:

  • Among tofacitinib patients, 25.5% (5 mg group) and 37.7% (10 mg group) had an ACR 70 response at 6 months compared with 12.0% of methotrexate patients.  Results at 12 and 24 months were similar (Figure 1)
  • Adverse effects:
  1. 4% of tofacitinib patients developed herpes zoster compared with 1.1% of methotrexate patients
  2. 5 tofacitinib patients developed cases of cancer (three cases of lymphoma) compared with 1 case among patients receiving methotrexate
  3. Tofacitinib was associated with decreases in neutrophil/lymphoctye counts, increases in creatinine levels, increases in aminotransferases, and increases (16-22%) in LDL/HDL cholesterol levels
  4. Four deaths were noted among patients treated with tofacitinib compared with none in the methotrexate patients.

Related blog postSource Article: Methotrexate Safety | gutsandgrowth

Source Article: Methotrexate Safety

A recent post (Monotherapy or Combination Therapy with Adalimumab) referenced an article indicating some potential concern for malignancy potential with methotrexate (Semin Arthritis Rheum 2014; 43: 489-97). Here’s a link to the source article/abstract:  Comparative cancer risk associated with methotrexate, other

The authors conducted a comparative effectiveness study with cancer as an outcome in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  The final sample size was 6806 patients.  The most common drugs examined included methotrexate (n=1566) and TNF antagonists (n=3761). Other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) included other non-biologics (n=904), rituximab (n=167), and abatacept (n=408).

The authors note that with “the advent of newer DMARDs and combination therapy (this) has allowed more RA patients to lead more functional lives.  With this improvement in therapy, more attention is focused on the comparative risks and benefits of treatment.”

Key findings/discussion:

  • TNF antagonists were associated “with a reduced overall cancer risk versus methotrexate.” (HR 0.29).  Figure 2B, shows a plot with specific HR for various malignancies.  TNF antagonists had a HR of 0.15 for lymphoma.
  • Oncogenic potential of methotrexate was described almost 20 years ago, however, “its obvious clinical benefits have overshadowed malignancy concerns.”
  • “Our findings suggest that when examining the cancer risk associated with other DMARDs, combined methotrexate use must be factor into adjusted analyses.”

How does this translate to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?  While RA and IBD patients may have different risks for malignancy, this study suggests that patients receiving methotrexate therapy may have a low risk of malignancy.  The potential benefits of methotrexate therapy along with alternatives need to be weighed against this possible risk. Perhaps, this article may help reduce the concerns regarding anti-TNF therapy with regard to relative risk.

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