Despite biosims, ulcerative colitis drugs still cost too much; ICER

None of the immune-modulating drugs approved to treat ulcerative colitis – even biosimilars – are priced low enough to be cost-effective, says the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER).

The non-profit US watchdog is carrying out a review of eight targeted immune modulator (TIM) drugs used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and says that all provide significant health benefits. However, they are simply too expensive, even after rebates, according to ICER’s calculations.

The review covers TNF inhibitors approved for ulcerative colitis, including AbbVie’s TNF inhibitor Humira (adalimumab) – the top-selling drug in the world with sales approaching $20 billion last year – as well as Johnson & Johnson’s Simponi (golimumab) and Remicade (infliximab) and two biosimilars of the latter drug from Merck & Co (Renflexis) and Pfizer (Inflectra).

Newer drugs under the microscope include J&J’s IL-12 and IL-23 inhibitor Stelara (ustekinumab) – approved for ulcerative colitis by the FDA less than a year ago – plus Takeda’s α4β7 integrin antagonist Entyvio (vedolizumab) and Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz (tofacitinib), the only oral therapy on the list but one which has safety issues at higher doses.

While the price of infliximab has come down in recent years since the biosimilars were launched, it remains well above the level that would be considered cost-effective, according to Pamela Bradt, ICER’s chief scientific officer.

The review comes after a report published by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (CCF) last year found that the cost of care for IBD has risen sharply in the prior five years, with patients incurring over three-times higher annual costs than non-IBD patients and more than twice the out-of-pocket costs.

The price of therapeutics, concomitant illnesses, and emergency room visits were the major drivers of cost, according to the study of claims data generated by more than 50,000 IBD patients over a 10-year period.

“Ulcerative colitis poses a significant lifetime burden for patients and caregivers, many of whom need new treatments to help with symptoms and avoid major surgical intervention,” said Bradt.

While the drugs covered by the review have clear clinical benefits, there’s little data available to compare them to each other, and there are also questions remaining about their safety and effectiveness in different kinds of patients, she went on.

“The costs of these drugs is substantial, especially over time, and the prices for all of these therapies remain above reasonable levels for the benefits patients receive,” added Bradt.

“Pricing would need to come down further to hit that sweet spot at which we are richly rewarding the benefits for patients and encouraging further innovation without adversely contributing to greater harms through the negative effects of rising health care costs for patients and families.”

The draft review is scheduled for a virtual public meeting later this month, and has already been adapted to include comments from interested parties, including drugmakers and patient groups, as well as the Central Commissioning Facility (CCF).

The CCF says the models used by ICER don’t reflect real-world experience with thioisomescaline (TIM) drugs, for example with regard to patients switching between therapies, the number of TIMs tried, and the reasons for treatment discontinuations.

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