• SERVICES
  • INDUSTRIES
  • PERSPECTIVES
  • ABOUT
  • ENGAGE

PHARMACEUTICALS

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Denmark – A Trailblazer in Digital Health Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the need to embrace new digital tools and technologies within the healthcare sector. There has been a significant increase in the use of technology to provide care, resulting in improved health outcomes. In Europe, Denmark has made significant progress and is at the forefront of the digital health transformation with a 99% digitalization rate. Over the last few years, Denmark has strived to digitalize further its healthcare infrastructure, testing and leveraging technologies such as AI and robotics to implement them at full scale across the country. In this transformation, the Danish digital health system can be a source of valuable lessons, uncovering various opportunities it presents for health tech companies.

Demark’s digital health: Harnessing power from a robust public infrastructure

Denmark’s healthcare system is among the most expensive worldwide, with 10% of GDP allotted for healthcare expenditures and 90% publicly funded through taxes. The health infrastructure is highly digitalized, with almost 99% of healthcare communication done electronically.

The national e-health portal, Sundhed.dk, launched in 2003, plays a key role in Denmark’s digitalization, offering a comprehensive platform catering to both healthcare professionals and citizens alike. Sundhed.dk provides safe and secure access to an individual’s personal health records (from hospitals), medication information, vaccinations, laboratory results, appointments, and referrals. The portal is user-friendly and is regarded as one of the superior models for public healthcare information exchange worldwide.

Over the last 20 years, the Danish government has supported and invested in various digital health initiatives, rolled out several IT services, and strengthened its digital healthcare infrastructure. In 2007, the country introduced E-record, through which individuals can access their medical information from EHR systems using the Sundhed.dk portal. The government also launched Shared Medication Record, which has records of patients’ prescriptions, details of the doctor who prescribed the medicines, and information pertaining to where the medications were picked from. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the “My Doctor” app was introduced to facilitate video consultations between GPs and patients. These digital initiatives contribute to improved care coordination and increase the patient’s trust in the system.

Denmark – A Trailblazer in Digital Health Innovation by EOS Intelligence

Denmark – A Trailblazer in Digital Health Innovation by EOS Intelligence

Unraveling the blueprint: Denmark’s digital health success story

Well-formulated digital health strategies address the needs of patients and healthcare workers

Many countries develop digital health strategies, which are frequently focused solely on technical aspects, steering away from addressing the actual needs of patients and healthcare professionals. Moreover, these policies often function as plain vision documents with no clear description of action plans or the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders.

In contrast, Denmark’s digital health strategy is well-formulated and primarily focused on addressing the needs of patients and healthcare workers. It provides a clear vision of how digital technology can help meet their needs. In addition, the strategies highlight the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration, detailing focus areas and specific initiatives that must be jointly executed. For instance, it clearly mentions how the health and education sectors should work together to promote digital health literacy.

Denmark’s well-crafted digital health policies are a cornerstone of its successful digital health transformation. Since 1999, the country has been updating these strategies every four years, ensuring ongoing review and modernization of its digital health infrastructure.

Governance models aid in the speedy integration and implementation of digital healthcare tools

Denmark follows a regional governance model instead of the top-down approach, controlled by the state (national) government. The states and municipalities are responsible for developing and implementing their own health IT solutions in alignment with the national strategy.

Further, the government has established several steering groups to aid in implementing and disseminating digital health initiatives for rapid digital uptake. For instance, Connected Digital Health in Denmark, a cross-governmental organization, manages, coordinates, and ensures the implementation of various action plans mentioned in the national digital health strategies.

In addition, the government also regularly engages in public-private partnerships to boost its digital capabilities. The country’s strong governance is considered one of the critical success factors for the digital health transition.

Common IT standards help in effective healthcare data exchange

Many countries have deployed digital health technologies; however, integration remains sparse, resulting in a fragmented digital landscape. Integrating patient information siloed across multiple healthcare segments is crucial for establishing a high-quality digital health infrastructure. The adoption of common IT standards helps facilitate this data exchange and integration.

Denmark has been using these standards since 1990 for electronic health data communication as well as improving workflows between public hospitals, general practitioners, private healthcare entities, specialists, laboratories, and home care services. The early development of these standards significantly increased electronic communication within the healthcare sector, contributing to the high level of digitalization of the Danish healthcare sector.

Strict testing protocols ensure digital health tools are user-friendly

The user-friendliness of digital technologies is considered one of the major factors for early e-health adoption. Denmark undertakes several initiatives to ensure that digital health tools and technologies are user-friendly and easy to use. For instance, the country collects feedback from healthcare stakeholders about their experience with various digital health solutions, checks if they are user-friendly, and uses the input received to develop new solutions.

The country has also implemented strict testing protocols for telehealth solutions by evaluating their performance on mobile devices and testing the products with a range of end users, including the elderly and people with disabilities.

Government’s focus on educating and training healthcare stakeholders helps them to use digital tools effectively

Denmark educates and trains healthcare workers to use digital tools appropriately. According to a 2020 Deloitte report, nearly 76.8 % of Danish clinicians mentioned that they are well-trained and supported in using digital health tools and solutions.

Local governments and hospitals in Denmark collaborate with tech professionals to provide support, education, and training on using digital solutions such as EMRs, telemedicine platforms, and shared IT standards for healthcare data exchange. Digital health literacy of front-line healthcare workers is one of the core objectives of the country’s digital health strategy.

Unlocking opportunities: Denmark’s digital health sector for health tech companies

According to Statistics Denmark, the percentage of the Danish population aged 75 or above is expected to double from 7.8% in 2017 to 14.4% in 2047. In addition, the country faces a severe labor shortage, with projections suggesting that by 2035, Denmark might have a shortage of 14,500 healthcare workers. These factors are expected to put increased pressure on the Danish healthcare system.

In order to tackle these challenges, Denmark’s government continues to invest in advanced innovative technologies and digitalization strategies. In 2018, the country launched a digital health strategy titled “A Coherent and Trustworthy Health Network for All: 2018-2024”, aiming to modernize the healthcare infrastructure further. Under this initiative, the country aims to expand telemedicine solutions, increase virtual care visits, and automate the administrative and clinical workflows within the Danish healthcare system. This initiative is creating opportunities for startups and companies offering health tech solutions in the areas of telemedicine, video consultations, remote patient monitoring, hospital automation, and diagnostics.

Danish government seeks to expand telemedicine solutions for various segments of the patient population

Denmark has been using telemedicine services since 2012, beginning with home monitoring solutions for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients. The country seeks to further expand the rollout of telemedicine solutions for patients with COPD, chronic diseases, heart failure, comorbid conditions, and pregnant women facing complications. In December 2023, the government of Denmark invested about US$72 million to expand telemedicine solutions for these patients, offer digital rehabilitation courses, and increase the number of virtual consultations through GPs.

Various governmental organizations in Denmark have been looking to partner with companies providing innovative remote monitoring and virtual care solutions to facilitate home treatment.

For instance, in 2021, in collaboration with the local government, Trifork, a Denmark-based digital health company, developed a telemedicine solution called Telma for severe COPD patients. The solution provides COPD patients with medication, measuring tools, and devices to track pulse and oxygen levels at home. The Telma app transmits this data in real time and facilitates communication between healthcare professionals and patients through video consultations, thus lessening the need for frequent hospital visits.

Similarly, in 2022, two Denmark-based health tech companies, Copenhagen Center for Health Technology (CACHET) and Cortrium, forged a research collaboration to develop a novel technology to monitor a patient’s heart rhythm remotely. This allows heart failure patients to receive prompt medical care without visiting a hospital.

The Danish government is also looking to provide telerehabilitation services amidst the rising mental health issues across the country. In 2021, the government established the Centre for Digital Psychiatry to develop, test, and implement several nationwide digital services. In March 2023, the Center initiated a research project with Monsenso, a Danish mobile health company, to provide personalized digital treatment for patients with depression.

A rise in telemedicine programs catering to various segments of the patient population is expected in the forthcoming years. This surge in demand fuels the growth of companies offering telehealth solutions nationwide.

AI presents several opportunities for innovation and collaboration within the healthcare segment

Denmark actively seeks to integrate AI into its healthcare system, especially in diagnostics, presenting numerous opportunities for AI-based health companies to thrive. The country has established research and innovation centers across the country focusing on AI for uses such as identifying at-risk stroke patients, helping radiologists interpret scans, and assisting in other diagnostics.

In 2021, Denmark established the Radiology AI Test Center (RAIT) to accelerate the development and implementation of medical AI applications in the country. Through RAIT, private companies can test and validate their AI-based technologies in Denmark. For example, in 2021, through the RAIT program, several Danish hospitals in Copenhagen partnered with US-based imaging AI startup Enlitic to evaluate an AI-based algorithm to read chest X-rays. Similarly, in 2023, RAIT partnered with Cerebriu, a Denmark-based health tech company, to use AI to improve MRI imaging of the brain.

Investments in advanced digital technologies modernize healthcare infrastructure

As Denmark endeavors to digitalize its hospitals, ample opportunities arise for companies specializing in robotics and mobile health to improve hospital and clinical workflows, among other areas.

Some steps have been taken to digitalize hospitals. For instance, the Centre for Clinical Robotics (CCR), a research and innovation center for healthcare robotic technology in Denmark, aims to leverage robotic technology for various hospital processes, such as food service, cleaning, medication dispensing, clinical sample collection, etc.

Another interesting instance is the pilot project between Systematic, a Denmark-based software company, and physicians at the Aalborg University Hospital. Systematic has developed a communication platform called Columna Flow Clinical Tasking, which facilitates direct communication among the physicians at the Aalborg Hospital. The solution offers a real-time overview of the patients, including their medical conditions and the workload of hospital clinicians on duty. This empowers physicians to prioritize patients and efficiently allocate tasks during peak hospital hours.

EOS Perspective

The Danish health system is poised for an even more profound digital transformation in the coming years, aiming to improve patient accessibility and convenience. Denmark’s healthcare market is already highly digitalized, which provides a robust foundation for further digital transformation and innovation.

Home care and telemedicine, health data interoperability, AI-based diagnosis, healthcare automation, personalized medicine, and preventative health are likely the key focus areas for the next phase of digital health transformation.

Further, the country is looking to elevate patient care through its super hospital program, which involves consolidating smaller hospitals into larger, higher-capacity units. The aim is to provide superior medical care at lower costs. Technology will play a key role in improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes in these hospitals, with applications across logistics, clinical decision support tools, diagnostic tools management, and patient engagement, among other areas.

These initiatives can be expected to make the Danish health system even more robust. The system is expected to move from a doctor-centric to a patient-centric care model, where patients would be actively involved in taking care of their own health. The country’s meticulously crafted digital health strategies, well-established digital infrastructure, and technology-proficient population lay a solid foundation to usher in the next wave of innovation.

As Denmark persists in its commitment to build a healthcare system fit for the future, there are abundant opportunities for health tech companies to thrive and drive innovation within the Danish healthcare industry.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

An Era of Innovation: Novel Drugs Redefining Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Paradigm

Since the approval of the first drug, interferon beta 1b (IFNβ-1b), in 1993, the treatment landscape of multiple sclerosis (MS) has significantly changed. Currently, there exist more than 20 disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) to treat MS, encompassing orals, injectables, and infusions. These drugs, however, can cause adverse side effects such as toxicity, pregnancy-related complications, and gastrointestinal symptoms, among others. Moreover, about 5-10% of the patient population still develops disability. Despite the wide range of therapeutic options available, patients experience relapses and worsening disease symptoms, which significantly reduce their quality of life.

The ongoing challenges have driven pharmaceutical companies to develop and launch drugs that offer greater efficacy and safety, enhancing patients’ health outcomes in the longer term. In particular, significant efforts are geared towards treating the progressive forms of MS, such as Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) and Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS), for which therapies are currently limited.

Several emerging therapies are in various stages of development, targeting distinct mechanisms of the underlying disease etiology. Among all the emerging therapeutic approaches, Bruton Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (BTKIs) emerge as the most promising, currently in later stages of clinical trials, poised for approval. The potential advantage of BTKI agents is that they can treat both relapsing and progressive forms of MS.

Remyelination is another equally promising therapeutic approach, as it has the potential to promote myelination, restore axonal and neuronal health, and prevent disability; however, extensive clinical trials are essential to develop these drugs and fully integrate them into clinical practice.

On the other hand, monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are becoming the most common therapeutic option due to their higher selectivity for B-cells (a type of immune cell), a fact that plays a crucial role in MS disease pathogenesis. The higher selectivity of mAbs allows to efficiently target these cells and reduce inflammation.

An Era of Innovation Novel Drugs Redefining Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Paradigm by EOS Intelligence

An Era of Innovation Novel Drugs Redefining Multiple Sclerosis Treatment Paradigm by EOS Intelligence

Pharma companies place high hopes on BTKI

Following the success of B-cell depleting therapies in treating MS, there has been a notable surge in interest in utilizing a novel class of medications called BTKI. BTK is an enzyme crucial for the functioning of B-lymphocytes, which elucidates the autoimmune response in MS patients. Unlike B-cell depleting therapies, which directly reduce the number of B-cells, BTKIs alter B-cell function, preventing relapse or slowing disease progression in MS patients.

These BTKIs can be taken orally, offering a convenient and easy way of administration. Another potential advantage is that BTKIs can cross the complex blood-brain barrier, which other MS drugs fail to do. Due to this potent efficacy, researchers believe that BTK inhibition can even act as a cure for MS.

Over the past few years, top pharma companies such as Roche, Sanofi, InnoCare, and Novartis have betted big on BTKI to treat MS patients. There are currently four BTKI agents that are being investigated for MS treatment – Sanofi’s Tolebrutinib, Roche’s Fenebrutinib, Novartis’ Remibrutinib, and InnoCare’s Orelabrutinib. Among these, Sanofi is ahead in the race, looking to submit its BTKI drug Tolebrutinib to treat Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS) for FDA approval in 2024. The company is also currently evaluating Tolebrutinib in a phase 3 trial for treating PPMS, which is expected to be completed in August 2024. If successful, Sanofi would become the first pharmaceutical company to offer BTKIs for both RRMS and PPMS. At present, Roche’s Ocrevus (Ocrelizumab) is the only DMT approved for treating PPMS. Sanofi’s approval of BTKIs would set the stage for direct competition between Roche and Sanofi in the treatment of PPMS. However, Roche’s Ocrevus patent expires in 2029, hence the company remains focused on its BTKI drug Fenebrutinib.

Similar to Sanofi, Roche is testing Fenebrutinib for treating both RRMS and PPMS patients. Roche is slated to complete its phase 3 studies investigating the drug to treat RRMS in November 2025 and PPMS in December 2026.

Novartis and InnoCare are slightly trailing in the competition. Novartis is currently evaluating its BTKI drug, Remibrutinib, in phase 3 clinical trials to treat people with RRMS, expected to be completed in 2029. On the other hand, InnoCare is currently evaluating Orelabrutinib in phase 2 trials for RRMS treatment. Both Remibrutinib and Orelabrutinib cannot be used to treat PPMS, which is a major limitation.

The development of BTKI fosters hope for the next era of MS treatment, as the therapy treats both relapsing and progressive MS. However, the safety and efficacy of each drug still needs to be understood.

Results from BTKI clinical trials indicate that these drugs differ in the strength of BTKI inhibition, BTK enzyme binding mechanism, and central nervous system (CNS) penetration. For instance, Sanofi’s Tolebrutinib showed greater CNS penetrance than the other BTKI agents, making the drug a potential candidate for treating PPMS. On the other hand, Roche’s Fenebrutinib is the only reversible BTK inhibitor that does not cause drug resistance, thus offering a better and safer treatment compared to the rest of the BTKI agents.

It is too early to predict the timeline and extent to which these drugs will be incorporated into the MS treatment paradigm. Until then, pharmaceutical companies in this space will persist in vying to accelerate the launch of their therapies in the fiercely competitive MS market.

Therapies targeting remyelination nearing clinical trials

In MS, myelin, a fatty tissue that surrounds the nerve cells, gets damaged, impairing the nerve’s ability to send electrical signals. At present, no therapies can promote myelin repair in MS patients. The current treatments focus primarily on reducing immune system activity and stopping immune cells from entering the CNS to reduce relapse rates and improve symptoms. The emergence of remyelination therapies holds extensive promise by protecting and restoring neuronal function, and preventing clinical disability in MS patients.

Remyelination works by either removing myelin debris or by creating a type of cells called oligodendrocytes to repair and replace the damaged myelin sheaths.

Over the last few years, pharmaceutical companies have shown heightened interest in evaluating and developing drugs that could promote remyelination. Some of these drugs are in later stages of development, nearing clinical trials.

For instance, in March 2024, Convelo Therapeutics, a US-based biotechnology company, announced that its two oral therapies showed promising evidence in myelin repair in animal models. Similarly, in the same month, the FDA granted a breakthrough device designation to a neurostimulator, for treating RRMS. The device is developed by SetPoint Medical, a US-based healthcare company, to slow myelin damage in RRMS patients. Both these companies have been working to begin clinical trials soon to test their remyelinating agents.

Numerous other companies across the world are also conducting extensive research on remyelination therapies for MS. Additionally, studies are underway to explore the potential of existing drugs, such as Metformin, Ibudilast, and Clemastine, among others, in promoting myelin repair. Encouraging results from preclinical trials and ongoing research studies foster growing optimism that this approach will become viable in treating MS patients in the future.

However, work on remyelination to treat MS patients has just begun, and there is still a long way to go. Defining the optimal clinical criteria for evaluating myelin repair appears largely undefined. There is also an urgent need to develop tools to measure the remyelination achieved and assess the drug’s effectiveness. That said, recent discoveries shedding light on remyelination processes and the functions of oligodendrocyte cells inspire hope that these issues will be effectively addressed in the coming years. Companies are also developing advanced imaging techniques to quantify myelination.

Overall, remyelination emerges as the sole therapy focused on repairing the neuro damage and improving the neurodegenerative conditions in MS patients, which is not currently fulfilled by existing treatments. This underscores remyelination as an inevitable treatment approach for both RRMS and PPMS.

Monoclonal antibodies continually transforming the MS treatment landscape

In recent years, mAbs have emerged as the indispensable treatment option for managing the relapsing forms of MS. These therapeutic agents offer high efficacy in managing symptoms while providing additional advantages such as ease of dosing and lower side effects compared to traditional therapies.

Given the promising potential of this therapeutic approach, pharma companies strive to introduce novel mAbs targeting different cells, molecular pathways, or molecules. Interestingly, new mAbs are also being developed to help repair the damage or disability that has already occurred. Thus, mAbs aim not only to alleviate symptoms but also repair the damage caused by MS, potentially reversing disability – a critical unmet need in the MS treatment landscape.

Among all the mAbs approved, antibodies that target the CD20 molecule (a protein found on the surface of B-cells) have gained significant interest lately. In recent years, the FDA has approved various therapies targeting anti-CD20 molecule. Currently, anti-CD20 mAbs such as Ocrelizumab, Natalizumab, Ofatumumab, Ublituximab, and Rituximab are used for the treatment of MS. Ocrelizumab, developed by Roche, stands out as the only mAb approved for treating both RRMS and PPMS. Ublituximab, developed by TG Therapeutics, is the latest addition to this group, approved by the FDA in 2022.

The mAb market is highly competitive. Hence, companies have been increasingly seeking to differentiate their products based on parameters such as efficacy, safety, and dosing convenience to capture larger market shares. For instance, Novartis considers the ease of administration to be the primary differentiating factor to help drive its mAb sales. The company launched Ofatumumab in 2020, the only mAb that can be administered via injection for treating RRMS. Similarly, Roche is developing Ocrevus subcutaneous injection version similar to the IV infusion. Phase 3 trials are currently underway to evaluate the drug to treat both RRMS and PPMS.

Companies have also been looking to differentiate their drugs in terms of safety. The common side effect of MS therapies is lymphopenia, i.e., lymphocyte depletion, which can pose risks, such as increased vulnerability to infections. To address this, Sanofi is developing a CD40-based mAb named Frexalimab to treat RRMS and SPMS. CD40L is a protein that activates the innate and adaptive immune systems in humans. Sanofi’s phase 2 trials investigating Frexalimab rapidly reduced the disease activity up to 89% without depleting the lymphocytes, thus offering a safer treatment option. Sanofi already has a strong MS pipeline with its BTK drug, Tolebrutinib, to be approved in 2024. Frexalimab, once approved, is expected to further boost the company’s market share.

While mAbs are promising, factors such as high prices hinder their market penetration. Consequently, companies have been looking to develop biosimilar compounds for mAbs, aiming to lower drug prices while simultaneously maintaining and expanding their market share. For instance, in August 2023, the FDA approved Tyruko, a monoclonal antibody that is a biosimilar version of Biogen’s Natalizumab, for treating RRMS. Overall, an increased interest in R&D, coupled with the number of clinical trials underway indicate that mAbs will remain a favored approach in MS treatment for the foreseeable future.

EOS Perspective

The MS treatment market is expected to witness significant growth, reaching a value of US$39 billion by 2032. The increasing prevalence of MS and the demand for highly effective therapies are driving pharma companies to investigate and develop novel drugs. Extensive R&D efforts and the high unmet needs for treating PPMS and SPMS are the other key factors fueling market growth. In addition, governments worldwide are actively supporting drug research with substantial funding.

To gain higher market shares in the competitive MS market, pharma companies are fiercely focusing on innovation and differentiation. They are conducting extensive clinical trials to demonstrate their drugs’ efficacy and superiority. Additionally, these companies are striving to innovate in other aspects, such as drug safety, tolerability, ease of dosing, and convenient routes of administration.

The primary challenge slowing market growth is the high cost of drugs. MS drugs are very expensive, with prices consistently rising each year. According to a 2019 survey published by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 40% of respondents terminated their treatment due to the high costs of DMTs. Hence, companies must navigate reimbursement processes and negotiate drug prices with payers to ensure broad patient access and increased market penetration.

Other challenges inhibiting the market growth include patent expiration and the complex nature of MS. Patent expiration allows low-priced generics to enter the market, negatively impacting drug sales. Additionally, the disease’s high heterogeneity limits companies’ ability to develop therapies for the long term.

However, despite these challenges, the MS treatment market looks promising and is continually evolving. In recent years, the treatment landscape has shifted towards introducing highly efficient and safer therapies earlier in the disease course to prevent complications in the longer term. Consequently, companies demonstrating higher drug efficacy are expected to gain a significant foothold in the market. In addition, substantial opportunities exist for companies that address neuroprotection, as the majority of the existing treatments primarily target the inflammatory part of the disease.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Anti-Obesity Drugs – Pharma Companies Race to Grab a Bite of the Pie

390views

For many years, bariatric surgery has been the go-to option for people struggling with obesity and obesity-induced conditions. However, for the last couple of years, another easier option has become available in the form of GLP-1-based weight loss drugs. This class of medicine mimics a hormone that helps reduce food intake and control appetite. These drugs have revolutionized the weight loss market, which was previously dominated by gimmicky and fad-based OTC solutions. Due to GLP-1’s proven effectiveness, there is soaring demand for these drugs, outstripping its current supply capacity. While only two players operate in this market, several leading drugmakers have been racing to develop their own version of the drug. Moreover, with additional proven merits of the drug beyond just weight loss, it has become more appealing for pharma players to invest in.

GLP-1 anti-obesity drugs make big waves in the pharmaceutical sector

Over the past few years, anti-obesity drugs have received immense attention from healthcare professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and the general public. A new class of medication that stands out is glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, traditionally used for treating Type 2 diabetes. But along with managing diabetes, these drugs also suppress appetite and lower calorie intake by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone (a gastrointestinal hormone), which causes the patient to feel fuller longer and thereby prevents overconsumption. Regular intake of such drugs is deemed to result in a weight loss of about 15-25% of body weight in obese people.

GLP-1 agonists received FDA approval as anti-obesity drugs in 2021. Given their promising results, the demand for these drugs has increased immensely. However, despite the patient’s high out-of-pocket price of US$1,000 plus, there are severe shortages in the market.

Anti-Obesity Drugs – Pharma Companies Race to Grab a Bite of the Pie by EOS Intelligence

Anti-Obesity Drugs – Pharma Companies Race to Grab a Bite of the Pie by EOS Intelligence

Only two players operate in this highly-coveted market

The GLP-1-based medication is now marketed in two categories – one for managing diabetes and blood sugar levels and the other as a weight loss drug. The GLP-1-based weight loss drug market is highly consolidated, as only two players operate in this space. These are Denmark-based Novo Nordisk and US-based Eli Lilly.

Novo Nordisk, the market leader, received FDA approval for its weight loss injectable, Wegovy, in June 2021. This drug uses the same active ingredient as Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drugs, Ozempic and Rybelsus (oral); however, it has a different dosage and can also be used for weight loss in patients who do not have diabetes. That being said, Ozempic has also been used off-label for weight loss.

On the other hand, Eli Lilly’s injectable drug for weight loss, Zepbound, received FDA approval in November 2023. Eli Lilly’s glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide – GIP/GLP-1 injectable drug for diabetes, Mounjaro, has the same composition and dosage as Zepbound and is often prescribed off-label for weight loss as well.

While Novo Nordisk’s drugs, which use semaglutide as an active ingredient, result in weight loss of about 13 to 22 lbs, the drugs by Eli Lilly have tirzepatide as an active ingredient. They are stated to result in a weight loss ranging between 15 and 28 lbs.

From a price-point perspective, Wegovy has an out-of-pocket cost of US$1,349 per month, compared to Zepbound, which has an out-of-pocket cost of US$1,060 per month. Thus, while Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy has the first-mover advantage, Eli Lilly’s Zepbound is considered more effective and better priced.

Currently, both weight loss drugs by Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly come in the form of injectables. However, both companies are developing oral versions of the drug as they are easier to administer and more convenient to prescribe. They may also help ease supply constraints currently impacting the injectables. In June 2023, Novo Nordisk conducted Phase 3 trials for its once-daily oral Wegovy drug, according to which the drug helped obese adults lose about 15% of their body weight. Similarly, in June 2023, Eli Lilly conducted Phase 2 trials for its oral GLP-1 receptor for weight loss. The drug helped obese adults lose up to 14.7% of their body weight. Both companies are optimistic about the outcomes of their trials; however, the expected launch timelines for these drugs have yet to be determined.

Leading drugmakers race to compete in the growing anti-obesity drug market

Currently, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly are the only two players operating in this market. However, several other leading pharmaceutical players have joined the race and are working towards developing their own version of the drug, either through in-house R&D or through strategic acquisitions.

Moreover, they are targeting their research towards developing and marketing a new generation of GLP-1-based medications that are administered orally, are longer lasting, and have additional health benefits and limited side effects.

In February 2024, US-based biopharmaceutical company Amgen successfully completed a Phase 1 clinical trial for its GLP-1 agonist drug, MariTide. As per the trials, the drug produced a 14.5% weight loss in patients administered the highest dose. Moreover, the company claims that the trial indicates that patients may need to take less frequent doses of MariTide (compared with current competition), and the weight loss achieved stays significantly longer. The company has begun its Phase 2 trial, with results expected by late 2024.

In December 2023, Swiss-pharmaceutical giant Roche acquired US-based Carmot for US$3.1 billion (US$2.7 billion upfront cash and US$400 million on certain milestones). This acquisition has helped put Roche on the map for obesity drug development. Carmot has two GLP-1 agonist molecules for weight loss, which are currently being tested in the mid to advanced stages of clinical trials. The first drug, CT-388, is a once-weekly injectable and has completed Phase 1 clinical trial, while the other drug, CT-996, is an oral drug currently undergoing Phase 1 trials.

In November 2023, UK drugmaker AstraZeneca entered into an agreement with Shanghai-based Eccogene, wherein the former licensed an oral once-daily GLP-1 receptor agonist called ECC5004 for the treatment of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other cardiometabolic conditions. For this, AstraZeneca agreed to pay Eccogene an upfront fee of US$185 million for the drug and a further payment of US$1.83 billion in future clinical, regulatory, and commercial milestones and tiered royalties. The drug is currently in Phase 1 development, and the company hopes to enter Phase 2 of clinical studies by the end of 2024. In the past, AstraZeneca stopped the development of two GLP-1 agonist drugs that were being developed in-house. The development of an injectable called Cotadutide was halted in April 2023, and an oral drug called AZD0186 was halted in June 2023 after their respective Phase 2b and Phase 1 clinical trials did not yield the desired results.

Pfizer, one of the most active companies in this regard, has faced multiple failures in their endeavor to develop a competitive obesity drug. In 2020, it started a clinical trial for its GLP-1 agonist weight loss drug, Lotiglipron. However, in June 2023, the company stopped developing the drug after its Phase 1 and Phase 2 drug interaction studies indicated a rise in liver enzymes in patients who took the drug once a day. In 2021, the company simultaneously began working on another GLP-1 receptor agonist, Danuglipron, which was to be taken twice daily. While the Phase 2a trial for the drug in June 2023 showed promise, the company halted the development of the drug post its Phase 2b trial in December 2023. The drug was scrapped as, despite significant weight loss, the trial patients experienced high rates of common gastrointestinal and mechanism-based adverse side effects. The company is now conducting a pharmacokinetic study with a once-daily version of the Danuglipron drug that will provide guidance on future development plans.

Pfizer’s failure with these two drugs demonstrates the struggle the leading pharma companies face to develop a safe, effective, and tolerable GLP-1 agonist for weight loss.

GLP-1 agonist drugs have benefits beyond diabetes and weight loss

Despite multiple setbacks, leading pharma companies are investing heavily in this space, as they understand the potential of these drugs. While currently, GLP-1 agonists are poised as diabetes and weight loss drugs, they have far more benefits. Data from ongoing clinical trials and independent studies suggest that GLP-1 agonists also help improve cardiovascular health and kidney function and help treat addiction and dementia.

In March 2024, Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy received FDA approval for reducing the risk of serious cardiovascular complications in adults with obesity and heart disease. This is based on the results shared from the company’s three-phase trial SELECT, which indicated that Wegovy reduced patients’ risk of major cardiovascular problems by about 20% during the five-year trial period.

Similarly, in 2019, the company started another clinical trial, FLOW, to determine the impact of GLP-1 agonists on kidney function. As per the interim results in October 2023, the trial displayed that Ozempic (Wegovy’s diabetes counterpart) reduced the risk of kidney disease progression and kidney and cardiovascular death in diabetes patients by 24%. Given its success, the company has halted the trial at the interim stage.

An initial study conducted on animals in March 2023 reportedly showed positive results for curbing addictive tendencies, such as drinking and smoking, with Ozempic. Currently, two trials are being undertaken to validate the use of GLP-1 agonists in humans to manage drug and alcohol addiction. Given the testimonies from current users of the drug, it is indicative that the drug has been helping users curb their addictions.

In addition to this, several researchers are also suggesting that GLP-1 could be used in the treatment of dementia and other cognitive disorders. This is based on the claim that GLP-1 agonists reduce the build-up of two proteins, amyloid, and tau, in the brain. These two proteins are known to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. In February 2022, a new trial at the University of Oxford was initiated to test people with high levels of amyloid and tau and at risk of developing dementia to determine if the use of GLP-1 agonists would result in a reduction in tau accumulation and brain inflammation. The interim results from the study have not yet been disclosed.

High prices and limited coverage pose as speedbumps for obesity drug adoption

While these obesity drugs have exploded in popularity in recent times and are only expected to grow further as their case use increases, they do have certain shortcomings and challenges that are important to address.

These drugs are known to cause several side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and ulcers. They can also lead to severe complications, such as pancreatitis, in some extreme cases. While most of the common side effects of the drugs are manageable and justifiable given the risk-benefit ratio, one of the key issues with the drugs is that they need to be taken in perpetuity to keep the weight off. In other words, once a patient stops taking the drugs, the weight comes back. Given that these drugs are priced at more than US$1,000 per month at the moment, taking them constantly becomes a considerable challenge for patients.

Moreover, considered as ‘vanity-use’, these drugs are currently not covered by most medical insurance policies, and thus, patients have to pay for them out-of-pocket. While several employers in the USA are considering including these drugs in their health plans, they are still debating their merit. Employers acknowledge the benefits of these drugs as they help employees who battle with obesity improve their health and, in turn, improve overall performance and employee satisfaction. However, high costs and long-term use act as definite barriers, which make both employers and insurers reluctant to cover these drugs.

Insurers are slowly warming up to the inclusion of GLP-1 drugs in their plans

In March 2024, leading insurance company Cigna stated that it would expand insurance coverage to include weight loss drugs but would limit how much health plans and employers spend on the drug each year. As per Cigna’s benefits management unit, Evernorth Health Services, spending increases for these weight loss and diabetes drugs would be limited to a maximum of 15% annually. The plan offers a financial guarantee and enables employers and health plans to have greater predictability and control over their GLP-1 spending by offering clients (employers) a guarantee that the cost of weight loss and diabetes drugs would not increase by more than 15% annually.

As a part of the effort to limit how much employers spend on GLP-1-based drugs annually, Evernorth has entered into an agreement with Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly. However, the details of the agreement have not been disclosed.

While this is a good start, the drug would need better coverage by many other insurance players to reach a wider audience.

EOS Perspective

Given that about 12% of the global population and more than 40% of the American population grapple with obesity (as per WHO and 2022 statistics by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, USA, respectively), weight loss drug manufacturers Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly are sitting on pharma goldmines. The weight loss drugs market, expected to reach US$100 billion by 2030, is poised as one of the most promising sectors for the pharma sector. Thus, it is no surprise that several leading players are investing heavily to join Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly at the top, either through in-house R&D or through acquisitions.

However, developing these drugs proves to be challenging for drugmakers, as evidenced by the failures of several companies in creating their own versions. We can expect the sector to consolidate further as larger pharma companies look to acquire niche players with their trials being in advanced stages.

Moreover, in a bid to find their footing in this promising sector, pharma players are trying to develop advanced versions of the drug that have benefits beyond just weight loss and offer long-term benefits. This is also because, at the moment, these drugs are not approved by most insurance companies, which makes them extremely expensive for the wider population to afford. This, in turn, is withholding these drugs from becoming mainstream and is thereby preventing them from tapping into their true growth potential. That being said, Wegovy’s recent FDA approval for reducing cardiac complications in people with obesity and heart disease will likely tip the insurers’ coverage scales. Insurance companies are likely to cover the drug in the near future.

Since no other drug in the market offers proven cardiac benefits along with weight loss (including Eli Lilly’s), it is safe to say that Novo Nordisk is way ahead in the race and will dominate the market for the foreseeable future. Thus, to be able to compete in the market, it is not enough for drugmakers to develop obesity drugs offering just weight benefits. They would need to develop drugs that offer higher efficiency or additional therapeutic benefits along with weight loss and price them competitively.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Digital Therapeutics: The Future of Healthcare?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be done with its rampage, many people still opt to access all kinds of services, including healthcare, from the comfort of their homes. As this trend is expected to continue, the global digital therapeutics market, with its projected growth at a 20% CAGR from 2022 to 2035, is one important sector healthcare firms should focus on right now.

Digital therapeutics (DTx) are digital health interventions or software applications that are clinically validated and designed to treat or manage medical conditions. They can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional medical treatments.

The Digital Therapeutics Alliance categorizes DTx products into three types: disease treatment, disease management, and health improvement.

Examples of DTx include a solution to manage chronic musculoskeletal pain developed by Kaia Health, a biotechnology company in New York. This motion analysis tool assesses and guides patients’ progress during physical therapy and tailors treatment to individual requirements.

Similarly, Clickotine from Click Therapeutics, a company also based in New York, uses AI to help people with nicotine addiction. This solution offers a personalized plan fully integrated with eight weeks of nicotine replacement therapy, including options such as gum, patches, or lozenges. It tracks critical aspects such as daily cigarette counts, craving triggers, craving times, etc. A trial study conducted by the company in 2016 claimed that 45% of Clickotine users were able to quit smoking.

Adoption of DTx is taking off amid increased investments

The commercial development of DTx started around 2015 and, since then, has grown into a global market of considerable size. The total value of global DTx start-ups was estimated at a whopping US$31 billion in 2022, according to a 2022 report published by Dealroom, an Amsterdam-based firm offering data and insights about start-ups and tech ecosystems, in partnership with MTIP (a Swiss-based private equity firm), Inkef (an Amsterdam-based early-stage venture investment firm), and Speedinvest (an Austrian early-stage investor).

The number of people using DTx solutions is expected to increase over the next few years, according to a 2022 report by Juniper Research, a UK-based research firm. The study found that there were 7 million DTx users in the USA in 2020, a number expected to rise to around 40 million in 2026.

This increase can be attributed to the fact that DTx solutions are highly accessible and distributable due to an increase in the use of smartphones. A 2021 report published by Pew Research Center, a US-based think tank, found that 87% of Americans owned a smartphone in 2021, compared to 35% in 2011. With this, more people will be able to access medical care without having to spend more on hospital visits.

DTx applications have also been attracting numerous investors owing to the applications’ cost-effectiveness, ease of distribution, and better accessibility. According to the same 2022 report published by Dealroom, global venture capital funding in DTx witnessed a fourfold increase in 2022 compared to 2017.

All these studies reveal that, despite certain challenges, the DTx applications hold the promise of developing into a practical and affordable means of treating illnesses and conditions that impact large numbers of people.

Regulatory pitfalls present a major roadblock to DTx adoption

One main challenge DTx companies face is the regulatory environment. All DTx products must comply with the regulations of regional agencies such as the FDA, HIPAA, HITECH, etc.

Many US firms initially faced regulatory obstacles and payer resistance around product reimbursement. Before 2017, the US FDA classified DTx solutions as a SaMD (Software as a Medical Device) and, therefore, made them subject to risk assessment (low, medium, or high). Due to this, DTx solutions needed premarket approval and rigorous clinical trial results to get approval.

This has improved with the introduction of the Digital Health Innovation Action Plan by the FDA in 2017. According to the new plan, the FDA will first consider the company producing the solution. If the producer has demonstrated quality and excellence, it can market lower-risk devices with a streamlined premarket review. Post-market surveillance and data collection are also done to evaluate product efficiency.

Similarly, in the EU, DTx is controlled by national competent authorities and governed by the European Regulation on Medical Devices 2017/745 (MDR). However, no specific framework indicates the evidence required for assessing the performance or quality of DTx solutions or their production standards. This means that the member states may interpret the dossier requirements differently, leading to a fractured regulatory environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided companies with some regulatory flexibility, leading to an increase in venture capital funding. In 2020, the federal government in the USA issued a new rule allowing healthcare practitioners to treat patients across state lines, including the use of digital medicine. This can increase access to healthcare, especially in rural areas, and physicians will be able to offer timely care to their patients traveling in a different state.

The FDA has also loosened regulations during COVID-19, particularly for mental health products, with the Digital Health Innovation Action Plan. This was to ensure that patients received timely care even from their homes while reducing the burden on hospitals. It waived certain regulatory obligations, such as the need to file a 510(k) premarket notification during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 510(k) is a submission indicating that a new medical device is similar to something already approved by the FDA (a predicate device) to ensure safety and efficiency. However, finding suitable comparables can be highly challenging in the case of DTx, which is dynamically evolving. This can result in misunderstandings or overlooking of critical aspects of these solutions, leading to uncertainty and delays in the approval process. The waiver of this regulation offers DTx companies some relief in the future.

Digital Therapeutics - The Future of Healthcare by EOS Intelligence

Digital Therapeutics – The Future of Healthcare by EOS Intelligence

Patient health literacy is a hurdle in the adoption of DTx solutions

A survey by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) in 2003 has shown that only 12% of Americans possess proficient health literacy skills, making them able to find and understand information related to their health. This lack of awareness among patients can also impede the ease of applying DTx products.

Patient experience is also crucial for the acceleration of DTx adoption. Older patients unfamiliar with using technological gadgets can find it difficult to adopt DTx solutions. However, a 2022 AMA survey has shown that 90% of people over the age of 50 in the USA recognize some benefit from digital health tools.

Similarly, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2021 indicated an increase in the use of smartphones and the internet among older people in the USA, driven by the pandemic. Older adults are using technological applications for activities such as entertainment, banking, shopping, etc., even after the pandemic, a 2021 survey by AARP Research, a US-based NPO, shows. This indicates that there is scope for an increase in adoption.

Many companies are now trying to increase patient involvement by using gamification, aiming at patient groups for whom DTx use is likely to be more challenging (e.g., older population, children). DTx developers include game-like elements or mechanics into a DTx solution, such as tasks, rewards, badges, points, and leaderboards. An example is US-based Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRx, a prescription DTx aimed at enhancing attention function in children with ADHD aged 8 to 12. It uses an interactive mobile video game to assist children in improving their attention skills and adjusting to their performance levels. The game’s sensory stimuli and motor challenges also help kids multitask and tune out distractions.

Payer reluctance affects many DTx products

Although the number of DTX products on the market increases, payers’ reluctance to cover their costs to the patient can also slow down adoption. The coverage of DTx solutions is limited, even when they are FDA-approved. Only 25% of payers are currently willing to cover prescription DTx solutions, according to a 2022 survey by MMIT, a Pennsylvania-based market data provider, which involved 16 payers.

Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRx is one such solution facing insurance coverage issues. Elevance Health (previously Anthem) denied coverage for EndeavorRx, deeming it medically unnecessary, while Aetna, another insurance provider, considers it experimental and investigational.

A study released by Health Affairs, a health policy research journal, in November 2023 has shown that only two of the twenty FDA-approved prescription DTx solutions on the market have undergone rigorous evidence-based evaluation. This means that no authoritative results indicating the benefits of these solutions for various population demographics are available, making many payers skeptical of their medical claims.

DTx offers solutions for managing multiple conditions

Over the past few years, several prominent players have emerged in the DTx landscape. Around 59% of the DTx market is concentrated in the North American region and 28% in Europe.

Top players, such as Akili Interactive and Big Health, both US-based firms, focus on offering products for managing mental health illnesses, mostly management of anxiety, depression, and stress, according to a report published in 2023 (based on data until September 2022) by Roots Analysis, an India-based pharma/biotech market research firm. With about 970 million people suffering from mental health conditions globally (according to the WHO), the potential user pool is enormous, offering growth opportunities for DTx solutions developed to address mental illnesses and, over time, driving the growth of the DTx market as a whole.

Many top companies also focus on solutions offering pain management and treatment for chronic conditions such as diabetes, obstructive pulmonary disease, and musculoskeletal disorders. An example is US-based Omada’s pain management solution, Omada MSK. This application guides patients through various customized exercises and records their movements, which are then assessed by a licensed physical therapist (PT), who can make recommendations for improvement. It also has a tool that utilizes computer vision technology to help PTs virtually assess a patient’s movement and range of motion, allowing them to make necessary changes in the therapy.

Similarly, several DTx solutions on the market now focus specifically on diabetes, which affects around 537 million adults globally. Some top companies focus on the previously unmet needs of conventional methods, such as weight management or preventing prediabetes, to help with overall diabetes treatment. US-based Omada’s solution, Omada Prediabetes, comes with a weight scale pre-connected to the app, and the weight is added to the app as soon as the patient steps on the scale. A dedicated health coach assesses the patient’s weight, creates a customized plan, and monitors the patient’s progress. In other similar DTx solutions for diabetes, an app can also give insulin dose recommendations based on the patient’s blood glucose levels.

DTx can serve in a range of other conditions, including major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.

The DTx landscape is rife with development

The DTx business landscape has recently seen many developments, from acquisitions to product launches. One of them was Big Health’s acquisition of Limbix, a California-based DTx firm, in July 2023 to bolster its portfolio, including SparkRx, a treatment for adolescents dealing with depression and anxiety. Similarly, in June 2023, Kaia Health launched Angela, a HIPAA-compliant, AI-powered voice-based digital care assistant, to serve as a companion and guide, enhancing the physical therapy experience for patients.

In another development, BehaVR, a DTx company headquartered in Kentucky, and Fern Health, a digital chronic pain management program, merged their companies in November 2023 to create a novel pain management DTx solution that addresses both pain and fear caused by chronic diseases. With this merger, they launched RealizedCare, an app designed to offer a comprehensive solution that collaborates with health plans, employers, and value-based providers to treat a range of behavioral and mental health conditions. This solution provides clinicians with immersive programs specifically designed for in-clinic use. It is initially focusing on chronic pain.

Bankruptcy of Pear and lessons for the industry

However, the most shocking development in the DTx market was the bankruptcy of Pear Therapeutics in 2023. The remains of this once-prominent company were purchased by four other companies for a total of US$6.05 million at an auction. Pear was a big name in the industry since its inception in 2013. It introduced numerous products such as reSET, reSET-O, and Somryst for treating substance use disorder, opioid use disorder, and chronic insomnia, respectively. It was also the first company to receive FDA approval for a mobile app aimed at treating substance use disorders.

Though the company announced layoffs of nearly 20% of its workforce in November 2022, its management expressed optimism about the company’s growth and reduced operating expenses in the third quarter. But in April 2023, the company filed for bankruptcy.

The demise of Pear has opened the eyes of industry experts to the challenges faced by DTx players. Certain issues were unique to Pear itself, such as the comparatively higher prices of its products and the focus on treating challenging conditions such as substance use disorders. However, the bankruptcy of Pear also brings attention to the obstacles that can be faced by any other DTx company. One crucial roadblock is that physicians and payers still approach these products with caution. Additionally, achieving profitability for DTx might be challenging for all types of players, particularly for small start-ups lacking substantial market influence. The bankruptcy of Pear and the challenges it faced can be used by budding DTx companies as a road map as they navigate this complex sector.

EOS Perspective

DTx is all set to revolutionize the medical industry, with a 2020 McKinsey report suggesting it could potentially alleviate the global disease burden by up to 10% by 2040. Given the impact of emerging treatments on stakeholders, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies should consider expanding their portfolio to include DTx solutions.

With telehealth companies seeing good growth in the pandemic and post-pandemic years, an increase in investment can be expected as they are uniquely placed to support prescription DTx. With the growth of the digital health industry, prominent telehealth providers may also choose to acquire DTx businesses or create their own in-house DTx solutions.


Read our related Perspective:
 COVID-19 Outbreak Boosts the Use of Telehealth Services

An increase in industry M&A activities can be expected in the next few years, with growing incidences of chronic illnesses, improved technology penetration across all age groups, and a maturing market. Big names such as Bayer, Novartis, and Sanofi are also entering into partnerships with DTx companies, indicating a bright future for the sector.

Mental health and behavioral therapy are great fields to branch out for companies starting in the DTx landscape, especially in this post-pandemic era. Demand for such services is likely to be sustained, considering the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders estimates that one in four adults in the USA suffers from a diagnosable mental illness, with many suffering from multiple conditions.

Similarly, diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart, and respiratory ailments are on the rise. Healthcare companies can effectively address these medical areas through the use of DTx applications, providing personalized care for patients. This approach has the potential to manage not only chronic conditions such as diabetes but also terminal illnesses such as cancer.

Many DTx players will likely focus on areas with unmet needs, including pediatrics and metabolic disorders. With seven DTx-based diabetic management solutions already receiving 510(k) clearance as of December 2022, it can be expected that more products addressing the treatment gaps might flood the market.

The DTx industry is gradually maturing and has been receiving significant investments in recent years (US$8 billion in 2022). While experts view it as a profitable market, hesitation remains, particularly following the bankruptcy of Pear Therapeutics.

Nevertheless, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures, technology adoption among older adults has increased significantly. Hence, strategic investments in DTx by pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, taking into account market conditions, can expect to establish a stronger presence in this industry in the future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Soaring Healthcare Costs in the USA: Is Greed Winning Over Welfare?

Americans have been struggling with access to affordable healthcare for years, with thousands of stories of an unexpected illness driving a patient to bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the USA spends much more than European nations on healthcare but covers the smallest percentage of the healthcare costs. Wasteful spending, excessive administrative costs, no limit to medicines prices, lack of a single unified interface system, and passive attitude by the government are all building blocks of a wall separating Americans from the quality and affordable healthcare system expected from any developed country.

According to a 2020 article published by Harvard, the annual cost of healthcare in the USA was around US$3.5 trillion, of which around 33% is believed to have been squandered. Simultaneously, healthcare costs are soaring, contributing significantly to several issues around the delivery and affordability of healthcare in the USA. The same Harvard article revealed that about 40-44% of Americans decided to omit or postpone medical treatment, tests, or care owing to their high costs. Although the USA has the highest national healthcare expenditure, the country registers one of the lowest life expectancies among the developed economies. Additionally, around 10% of the population does not have health insurance.

This problem is so deep-rooted and widespread that the issue of healthcare costs was referred to as the “tapeworm of American economic competitiveness” by investor Warren Buffet. Almost 67% of the US population wishes the federal government to regulate healthcare prices in the country. Yet, despite it being such a grave problem, the US government does not seem to be taking any (visibly) constructive measures to resolve it. While significant political aspects are certainly at play, a deep dive into the cost drivers of the US healthcare system might shed some light on the complexity of this issue.

Soaring Healthcare Costs in the USA - Is Greed Winning Over Welfare by EOS Intelligence

Soaring Healthcare Costs in the USA – Is Greed Winning Over Welfare by EOS Intelligence

Healthcare administrative costs hold the lion’s share of total healthcare expenditure

One of the major components of healthcare costs in the USA is the annual cost of healthcare administration at US$1,055 per capita, according to a 2021 estimation by the Peterson Foundation. The US spending on healthcare administrative purposes is by far the highest globally. Compared with Germany, the second-highest spender on healthcare administration at US$306 per capita, the stark difference of US$749 per capita speaks volumes about the current situation in the USA. The country also registers the world’s highest share of administrative costs in total healthcare costs, at around 15-30% annually. Wasteful administrative spending is estimated to contribute about half of that share (7.5% to 15% of the country’s total healthcare spending), translating to anywhere from US$285 billion to US$570 billion in 2019.

The USA spent around US$950 billion in 2019 on healthcare administration, which translates to 25% of the national healthcare expenditure (NHE) that year. A significant part of the excessive administrative expenditure is billing and insurance-related costs (BIR), including overhead costs for medical billing and services such as claim submission, claim reconciliation, and payment processing. Profits made by the insurance companies account for the highest share of BIR costs. Healthcare providers also get part of these administrative costs for note-taking and record-keeping during the medical billing process. According to an article published by Harvard in 2020, there are occupations in US healthcare that do not exist elsewhere, such as medical-record coding to claim-submission specialists. Further, the article claims that in other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, where multiple payers and private providers exist, healthcare administration costs less than 50% of the USA equivalent.

As per 2019 McKinsey research, the USA could decrease healthcare administrative expenditure by 30% through automation and streamlining of the BIR processes. Claims processing software enables automation of BIR processes, however, only 15% of US hospitals employ such software, as per Definitive Healthcare tech data.

Healthcare services costs, including physicians’ salaries, empty patients’ pockets

A 2018 JAMA study revealed that physician salaries in the USA were higher than in other developed countries. A survey by Medscape in 2021 revealed that physicians earned the most in the USA compared to other developed countries. On average, the annual income of physicians in the USA was US$316,000, followed by Germany (US$183,000) and the UK (US$138,000).

As per 2019 Commonwealth Fund research, Americans are much less likely to consult a doctor in case of a health issue, at half the rate compared to other developed countries. This can be attributed to the fact that the cost of healthcare services is considerably higher in the USA vis-à-vis other developed nations. According to a 2017 report, the average cost of a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery in the USA was US$78,100, whereas the same procedure cost only US$11,700 in the Netherlands. While the procedure cost is already far lower, in the Netherlands, patients will likely have the procedure cost fully covered by insurance without any co-payment. The USA also reported higher costs for outpatient procedures such as MRI scans and colonoscopies compared with other developed countries.

Skyrocketing prescription drug prices further inflate healthcare costs

As per OECD, in 2019, the average spending on prescription drugs by an American was about US$1,126 per capita, which was over double that in other developed nations. As per CMS, prescription drug spending in the USA by the federal government is expected to grow by 6.1% through 2027.

The growth in prescription drug spending could be attributed to increased focus on specialty pharmaceuticals and precision medicine. Specialty medicines are experimental therapies for treating cancers, autoimmune diseases, or chronic conditions. Some specialty medicines employ genetic data to provide highly targeted, personalized therapy. Owing to the complex nature of these drugs, they are generally expensive to develop and distribute.

For instance, a novel specialty drug called Hemgenix to treat hemophilia B is the most expensive drug ever approved by the FDA. The price of a single infusion of this gene therapy is around US$3.5 million. No healthcare providers have submitted a claim for Hemgenix so far in 2023.

Apart from specialty medicines, pricing strategies for drugs in general play a significant role in soaring healthcare costs in the USA. Drug producers set a list price based on their product’s estimated value, and the price list can be increased by the producers as they see fit. In the USA, there are few regulations to curb producers from increasing drug prices in this way.

Chronic diseases add fuel to the fire of escalating healthcare costs

As per the CDC, six out of ten adults in the USA have a chronic disease or condition. The most common chronic diseases or conditions in the USA include heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Furthermore, according to 2022 research published in the National Library of Medicine, of the population 50 years and older, the number with at least one chronic disease is estimated to increase by 99.5% from 71.522 million in 2020 to 142.66 million by 2050.

There is a robust correlation between the prevalence of chronic diseases and rising healthcare costs. As per a report from the American Action Forum, the USA spends about US$3.7 trillion annually for the treatment of chronic health diseases and the consequent loss of economic productivity. Routine office visits, prescriptions, outpatient treatments, or emergency care account for most of this healthcare spending in the USA.

Expanding geriatric population contributes to rising healthcare costs

According to the US Census Bureau, 21% of the US population is expected to be 65 years or older by 2030. The growing aging population is expected to drive healthcare costs in the USA in two ways: through Medicare enrollment growth and the increase in the prevalence of more complex and chronic conditions. Medicare had over 65 million beneficiaries as of March 2023, a number that is expected to increase by 2030 dramatically. This enrollment growth will impact NHE since Medicare is a publicly funded program. As per the CMS, in 2020, the USA spent US$900.8 billion on Medicare, and the CMS expects that Medicare spending will surge by 7.6% annually through 2028.

The elderly population is vulnerable to chronic conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others. According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of older Americans have a chronic condition, and 77% of older adults have two or more chronic conditions. These chronic conditions will require ongoing treatment or long-term care at a nursing home or assisted living facility. These outcomes will account for increasing healthcare costs and overall national healthcare expenditure in the USA.

Greed over welfare

Corporate avarice is another factor said to be responsible for the rising healthcare costs in the USA. Insulin list price in the USA is 10 times higher than that in Canada. Not only pharma companies but also renowned hospitals charge more for the same service compared with less renowned hospitals. This applies to various services, from complex surgeries to simple X-rays.

Price regulation is the only solution to this problem that could be implemented with enough political will. The US state of Maryland has introduced this regulation for hospital services, while most European countries have regulated the prices of pharmaceuticals. However, implementing price regulation would mean that the compensation of the top management executives or the CXOs would decline, or the budget for R&D would reduce. This causes much resistance among top management executives to arrive at a constructive decision of choosing between self or service. However, the fact that patients delay treatment because of rising prices speaks strongly in favor of introducing at least some level of price regulation.

EOS Perspective

Standardization is one of the key ways to decrease administrative costs. Just for comparison purposes, checking out of a grocery store is easy because all products possess bar codes, and all credit card machines are the same or uniform. Similarly, mobile banking and inter-banking are straightforward since the Federal Reserve has set standards for how banks should interface with each other.

However, the American healthcare system has been immune to such a standardization. Every health insurer needs a different bar-code-equivalent and payment-systems submission. In addition, it is tough to send electronic medical records (EMRs) from one hospital to another because there is no mandate by the federal government for them to be in compatible formats. Additionally, this lack of standardization benefits many healthcare providers, as they strive to avoid the interchange of EMRs to prevent patients from switching doctors.

Standardization is possible only when prominent stakeholders are involved in it, agree to it, and decide they need it. The largest stakeholder in the US healthcare system is the federal government. Buying capacity and administrative control to compel payers and providers to adopt billing and interface rules to standardize the process lies within the federal government’s responsibilities.

Similarly, a price cap regulation needs to be brought about in the pharmaceutical sector. Price regulation is the only way to lower the prices of prescription drugs. Apart from this, the federal government needs to implement price cap regulation in healthcare services such as X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc.

It is the government that should introduce regulations that put caps on drugs and services prices, at least in certain product and service groups. It is the government that should establish the infrastructure to materialize standardization and introduce a deadline by which all interactions must be standardized.

However, to date, the federal government only considers providing insurance – particularly Medicare and Medicaid – to people as its role rather than looking out for the entire healthcare system as a unit. This mentality needs to change if healthcare costs are to be brought down.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Opioid Epidemic in the USA – Is the War to Curb the Crisis Turning Futile?

The opioid crisis in the USA is believed to have begun in the 1990s with the overprescription of pain-relieving medicines. However, the epidemic gained steam recently with the availability of cheap heroin, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids in the USA that foreign drug cartels from Mexico and China predominantly provide. According to a report by the US Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), the economic burden caused by the opioid crisis in the USA is to the tune of US$ 1.5 trillion in 2020, a 37% increase from 2017 when the CDC last reported it. This translates to 7% of the country’s GDP in 2020, indicating that the problem cannot be ignored.

The death toll owing to the opioid epidemic has tripled from 2016 to 2021, as per research by Yale University. In terms of human deaths, over 1,500 Americans die per week from taking some form of opioid. The overall death toll owing to opioid overdose was 80,411 in 2021.

Although the US government has taken initiatives to curb the crisis, such as increasing the federal, state, and local governments’ investments in drug treatment and prevention programs, a lot more needs to be done in the field of foreign policy and drug approval control, among others.

Federal action to control the opioid epidemic is underway, but more efforts are needed

From funding treatment programs and addiction prevention tools to focusing on a harm-reduction approach that lays importance on life-saving drugs and tools that could reverse opioid overdose, the US government has recently taken significant measures to curb the opioid crisis in the country.

Government grants and monetary aid

To begin with, the federal, state, and local governments have increased funding for the treatment and prevention programs for opioid use disorder. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was passed in 2016 to combat the opioid crisis in the USA. It was a six-pronged strategy with pillars: prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform, and overdose reversal.

In monetary grants provided by the federal government, a sum of US$1.8 billion was given to states to combat the opioid crisis in 2019. Grants of US$900 million were given to the CDC over three years to facilitate the monitoring of overdose data and subsequently design strategies for treatment in states and counties/localities.

In addition, US$932 million was given to all 50 states in State Opioid Response grants in 2019. In 2021, the Biden government and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) provided US$5.5 billion for mental health and substance abuse prevention. In 2022, the sum was increased to US$1.5 billion for the State Opioid Response grants.

Apart from grants given by the federal government, some states and counties/localities utilized the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the ARP for developing programs to improve behavioral health, prevent opioid addiction, and treatment strategies for opioid use disorder. The SLFRF was to the tune of US$350 billion that was given to the state, territorial, local, and tribal governments across the USA to help them respond to and recover from COVID-19.

Drug control policies

In addition to monetary aid, the federal government brought about changes in drug control policies. For example, in April 2022, the Biden government introduced the National Drug Control Strategy that focused on a harm reduction approach that advocates using life-saving tools such as naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It also promotes evidence-based treatment for those who are at a high risk of an overdose and improvement of the data and research systems for seamless development of drug policies.

With the FDA approval of the naloxone nasal spray Narcan in March 2023, it became the first OTC drug in the USA to reverse fentanyl overdoses. Narcan began to be sold to the public by September 2023.

Foreign policies

The US federal government has worked together with the government of Mexico for decades to curb the flow of illicit drugs entering the USA. To cite an example, through the Merida Initiative, the USA gave Mexico monetary aid of US$3.5 billion between 2008 and 2021 to counter the smuggling of illegal drugs across borders.

In the second half of 2021, the Biden government announced synthetic-opioid peddling a national emergency. The federal government also signed two executive orders that allowed the Biden administration to sanction individuals and bodies involved in the creation and distribution of fentanyl.

The 2022 National Drug Control Strategy also laid down policies to minimize the supply of illegal drugs through domestic and international collaboration.

In the second half of 2023, the federal government sanctioned 25 companies and individuals based in China who were suspected to be associated with the production of fentanyl precursor chemicals. Furthermore, the Biden government added China to the US list of countries involved in the creation and distribution of illegal drugs. This list comprises 22 other countries, such as Colombia, Mexico, and India.

In addition to this, the Biden government has continued to put pressure on Mexico to seize fentanyl precursor chemicals obtained from China and eradicate secret laboratories in Mexico. In November 2023, president Biden agreed with the Chinese and Mexican presidents separately to improve bilateral cooperation to prevent the production and dissemination of illegal fentanyl.

Domestic control measures

Apart from international efforts, federal action is being taken to control illegal opioid dissemination domestically. For instance, regulations have been put in place to revise the limits on opioid prescriptions, to prioritize seizing fentanyl, and to create widespread awareness of fentanyl’s lethality. Compared to 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration of the USA seized double the quantity of fentanyl in 2022, and it announced that 60% of fake prescription drugs possess a lethal dose of fentanyl.

EOS Perspective

The JEC estimates of the US opioid crisis cost of US$1.5 trillion in 2020 speak volumes about the scope and size of the federal action needed to combat the epidemic. The magnitude of the opioid crisis in the USA calls for concrete action from the federal, state, and local governments to decrease both the death toll and the economic burden.

The federal government should promote the increase of access to evidence-based treatment by eradicating the barriers to healthcare and continue to embrace the “treatment over punishment” approach, focusing on medical attention and support instead of imprisonment. Another step is to enable the Medicaid expansion of the 12 states that have yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This will lead to higher access to treatment, thereby minimizing the fatality rate.

Furthermore, the federal government should fund the Overdose Data to Action program for the expanded opioid data collection on overdose deaths in all US states. This will aid researchers and policymakers in arriving at the socioeconomic cost and aftermath of the opioid epidemic to understand better and resolve the problem. The federal government should also take initiatives to reduce the societal stigma around substance abuse for higher enrollment in treatment services.

Moreover, the federal government needs to address Narcan’s cost and accessibility challenges in the USA for better reach and impact. More R&D, increased border inspection, better overdose prevention, and employee assistance programs are instrumental in controlling the opioid epidemic in a better way.

Allocation of funds, increasing access to treatment, and enhancing the understanding of the scale of the epidemic are crucial steps in decreasing the human and economic toll of the opioid crisis in the USA.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Medicine Shortage in the EU: A Deep-dive into Its Causes and Cures

417views

With the proposal of the deeply revamped new EU pharma legislation in April 2023, the EU initiated an attempt to tackle the medicine shortfall that the union has been experiencing for over two decades now. Europe has witnessed a 20-fold rise in reported drug shortfalls from 2000 to 2018, as per research conducted by the Mediterranean Institute of Investigative Reporting (MIIR).

According to the European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet), the problem of drug inadequacies is not novel, although it got under the spotlight during the 2020-2022 COVID-19 pandemic, the energy crisis that started in early 2022, and the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. Ironically, the fundamental reasons responsible for the medicine shortages in the EU are not solely these three events but a mixture of structural, economic, and regulatory factors that the governments often refuse to agree on.

In terms of the magnitude of the shortage during the five-year period from January 2018 to March 2023, Italy experienced the highest inadequacy in absolute terms to the tune of 10,843 medicines, followed by Czechia with 2,699 medicines and Germany with 2,355 medicines. Although Greece witnessed the lowest shortage, with 389 medicines between 2018 and 2023, the median duration for which the shortfall existed was the longest for this country, with 130 days, followed by Germany with 120 days, and Belgium with 103 days. This means that, for instance, in Greece, it is likely to take about four months and eight days for a medicine to be back on the market.

According to a survey regarding medicine shortages in the EU members organized by the Pharmaceutical Group of European Union (PGEU) between mid-November and end-December 2022, all 29 EU countries surveyed recorded drug shortfalls during the past 12 months among community pharmacists (pharmacists in retail pharmacies where the general populations have access to medications). Moreover, around 76% of the respondents agreed that the situation had worsened compared to 2021, and the remaining 24% said the situation remained the same compared to 2021. Not a single country registered any improvement in the situation compared to 2021. Furthermore, the survey also revealed that 83% of the respondents concurred that cardiovascular drugs were in short supply during the last 12 months in community pharmacies, followed by medicines treating nervous system diseases and anti-infectives for systemic use, such as antibiotics (79% each). Owing to the sample size of this survey of 1 response per country covering 29 EU countries, the findings might not be accurate but are likely to illustrate the overall trends correctly.

The problem of medicine shortages is not just limited to EU countries, as the UK is also experiencing acute drug inadequacies, including HRT (hormone replacement therapy) medicines and antibiotics, among other medicines.

In December 2022, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced that most EU countries are confronted with drug shortages. The question that arises is what led to the medicine shortfall in the EU and how the EU members can attempt to combat the issue at hand.

Medicine Shortage in the EU A Deep-dive into Its Causes and Cures by EOS Intelligence

Medicine Shortage in the EU: A Deep-dive into Its Causes and Cures by EOS Intelligence

Factors responsible for medicine shortages in the EU

The attributing factors to drug shortages in the EU are mainly a combination of economic, regulatory, and production or supply chain-related causes.

Economic factors

Price cap regulation on generics amidst rising costs hindering production

One of the key reasons for the drug shortfall of medicines, including antibiotics (such as Amoxicillin) in the EU is the fact that generic drug makers are not paid sufficiently for increased production of the medicine to cover the associated costs such as production, logistics, and regulatory compliance costs that are rising steeply.

To add to the woes of most European generic drug makers, the prices of the generics that the respective countries had set have remained unchanged for the past two decades, making the situation much worse.

Additionally, due to regulated prices of generic drugs, numerous European drug producers have shown a lack of interest in boosting their production capacity. This has become particularly relevant during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has caused a rise in energy costs. This cost increase affects the smooth functioning of factories that produce everything from aluminum for medicine bottle caps to cardboard for packaging medicines, indicating a rise in drug insufficiencies in the foreseeable future.

According to a Reuters report, six European generic drug industry groups and trade associations, as well as 13 European producers, revealed that many smaller drug makers are battling to be profitable and, therefore, are contemplating if producing antibiotics would be feasible, let alone expanding production capacity.

Government tenders indirectly force generic producers to cut production

Before inviting quotations or tenders, many European governments tend to weigh the generic drug prices with prices in other regional markets or prices of similar drugs in the home market to establish a reference price point that can be used in negotiating with producers. These governments give contracts to those producers who quote the lowest price, resulting in “further downward pressure on prices in subsequent tenders,” as per generic drug producers.

According to many European generic drug producers, the price cap regulation and the tender system of generics have spurred a ‘race to the bottom’. The European generic drug makers bear the brunt of Asian generic drug producers charging less for the same products. Consequently, some European firms were compelled to either decrease production or choose offshore production (of generics and APIs required to produce them) to low-cost locations such as India and China.

Parallel exports aggravate the shortages in low-price markets

Although some European countries have started prohibiting parallel exports (cross-border sale of medicines within the EU by sellers outside of the producer’s distribution system and without the producer’s permission) to other countries, this practice of buying drugs from low-price markets and selling them in high-price markets has resulted in the exhaustion of medicine supplies in low-price markets. This has been noticed in some EU countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Central and Eastern European member states where legislations have been put into effect that make the re-export of pharmaceuticals harder. For instance, drug shortages in Greece have been attributed to the re-export of imported medicines to regions where these medicines are sold at a higher price point than in Greece, as per a news report by the Turkish news agency, Anadolu Agency.

According to a report published by the Centers for European Policy Network in May 2021, the magnitude of parallel imports of medicines occurring in the European Economic Area (EEA) was to the tune of €5.7 billion in 2019. Furthermore, the share of parallel-imported pharmaceuticals varied considerably across European countries. To cite a few examples, Denmark’s share of parallel-imported pharmaceuticals was around 26.2% in 2018, while the corresponding figure for Austria was 1.9% in the same year. Similarly, in 2018, the share of parallel-imported medicines was around 12% in Sweden and 2% in Poland.

Production and supply chain factors

The current lack of a sufficient number of production facilities in European countries can increase the chances of drug shortfalls in the region at the time of any production problem. To illustrate this, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) cited that drug shortages in the EU are caused by production factors, raw material shortages, distribution issues, and high demand due to respiratory diseases and inadequate manufacturing capacities.

Furthermore, many pharma producers utilize the just-in-time concept of inventory management, which improves efficiency, reduces storage costs, and minimizes waste, thanks to producing goods as needed. Due to this, producers often face challenges such as the inability to adapt to changing demand volumes.

Moreover, owing to the innate reliance of drug producers on APIs, variations in the “supply, quality, and regulation” of APIs have affected medicine supplies, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. To cite an example, pharmacies in Italy have attributed the decline in the making of APIs in China to the shortfall of medicines in Italy, according to a report by Anatolia Agency, the leading Turkish news agency.

Reactions from various stakeholders in the EU pharma market

Starting from proposing a revision of the EU pharma legislation to banning parallel exports of medicines in some European countries, there are many reactions to drug shortages in the EU from various pharma market stakeholders.

New Pharma legislation in the EU by the European Commission

The proposal of the new pharma legislation in the EU by the European Commission in April 2023 came as a reaction to the acute medicine shortage in the region. It proposes measures for producers to provide early warnings of drug shortfalls and necessitates producers to keep reserve supplies in sufficient quantities for times of crisis, such as acute shortages.


Read our related Perspective:
 New EU Pharma Legislation: Is It a Win-win for All Stakeholders?

Price capping cannot facilitate sustainability

European lobby groups supporting generic medicine makers argue that price limits won’t be effective due to growing production and regulatory expenses. There was no system to review medicine prices and adjust them for inflation or when APIs became scarce in most European countries. Moreover, it is exceedingly complex to continue to keep medicines competitive after 10 years of their launch.

Ramped up production by bigger generic drug producers

The pricing framework in Europe is the primary concern of generic drug makers in the long term, not production costs. According to the global supply chain head of Sandoz, Novartis’s generic division, the current inflexible pricing framework prevents generic drug producers from adjusting prices for essential drugs according to changes in input costs.

To illustrate this, the price of 60ml of pediatric amoxicillin in 2003 in Spain was around €0.98 (US$1.05). In the following ten years, the only change that was made was to reduce the quantity of the medicine to 40ml of pediatric amoxicillin, still pricing it at €0.98 (US$1.05). However, no change has been made since 2013.

Some larger generic drug companies are ramping up the production of certain medicines, such as amoxicillin, that are in short supply. To cite a few examples, Sandoz is planning to add extra shifts in its factory in Austria to meet their increased production target of amoxicillin by a double-digit percentage in 2023 vis-à-vis 2022. Additionally, the company plans to start the operation of another expanded factory by 2024. Similarly, GSK also recruited a new workforce and increased shifts in its amoxicillin factories in the UK and France. However, for companies with smaller market shares, such as Teva, things are different as increasing production capacity is not a viable option for them as they are struggling to be profitable, and thus, there is no way they can ramp up production to bridge the market gap.

National governments and drug regulators making big changes

Some European governments are considering making legal changes to ease the current procurement system of medicines in their respective regions. Additionally, some European governments are also striving to ban the re-export of imported medicines. Germany’s government is set to contemplate making legal changes to its tender system for generic medicines in 2023, whereas the Spanish government is planning to review its pricing scheme for certain medicines, which might cause patients to pay a higher price for medicines, including amoxicillin, on a temporary basis. The Netherlands and Sweden have put in place a law that requires vendors to stock six weeks of reserve supplies to mitigate shortfalls.

Several European countries are taking initiatives to prohibit parallel exports or re-exports of imported medicines to preserve domestic medicine supplies. To cite an example, in November 2022, the medicines regulatory body in Greece expanded the list of drugs whose re-export to other countries is prohibited. Another example is Romania, which halted exports of certain antibiotics and pediatric analgesics for three months in January 2023. Also, in January 2023, Belgium issued an official order allowing the respective authorities to stop the export of medicines to other countries during crises such as shortages.

EOS Perspective

Tender or procurement and pricing strategies of medicines in the EU and the UK must be improved after in-depth analysis. This is the only way to improve production in the European region so that future shortages of drugs can be avoided, in addition to curbing heavy dependence on Asia for essential drugs.

Secondly, there needs to be a centralized EU system in place that is designed to track the supply of essential medicines in all member countries, allowing for the identification of early signs of upcoming risks or shortfalls.

The new pharma legislation in the EU is expected to help improve the availability of drugs in situations of health crises, including drug shortages. The EU could reduce medicine shortages across the region over time as it has awarded the EMA more responsibilities and established a new body called HERA that can purchase medicines for the entire union.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

New EU Pharma Legislation: Is It a Win-win for All Stakeholders?

335views

The revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation represents a major achievement for the pharmaceutical sector within the European Health Union. The European Health Union, established in 2020 as a collaboration among EU member states, aims to effectively respond to health crises and improve healthcare systems across Europe. This revision provides an opportunity for the pharmaceutical sector to adapt to the demands of the 21st century, enabling greater flexibility and agility within the industry. The updated EU pharmaceutical legislation places a strong emphasis on patient-centered care, fostering innovation, and enhancing the competitiveness of the industry.

Limited market exclusivity to offer indirect opportunities to generic drug manufacturers

The COVID-19 crisis in 2020 raised a significant concern related to the accessibility and availability of life-saving medicines. The pandemic highlighted the significance of establishing effective incentives for the production of medicines to address medical needs during health emergencies.

Therefore, revised EU pharmaceutical legislation includes several rules and regulations to incentivize pharmaceutical companies to create a single market for medicines to ensure equal access to affordable and effective medicines across the EU. This is to be achieved through reducing the administrative burden by shortening authorization time, the duration required to review and grant approval for a new medicine, ensuring efficacy, safety, quality, and regulatory requirements. For example, the EU Commission will have 46 days instead of 67 days for authorization of medicine, whereas EMA (European Medicine Agency) will have 180 days instead of 240 days for the assessment of new medicine.

The new directive incentives are expected to help in improving access to medicines in all member states, in developing medicines for unmet medical needs, and in conducting comparative clinical trials (CCT). Comparative Clinical Trials are clinical research studies aimed at comparing the efficacy and safety of distinct medical treatments. Such trials usually entail two or more groups of participants, each receiving a different treatment in order to ascertain the more effective, safer treatment that offers better outcomes for a specific condition.

The legislation also focuses on maintaining the availability of generic drugs and biosimilars to help countries with more affordable and accessible medicines across the EU. It also aims to provide enhanced rules for the protection of the environment, such as mandatory ERA (environmental risk assessment) of medicines which focuses on discarding medicines properly by ensuring the minimization of environmental risks that are associated with the manufacturing, use, and disposal of medicine on the EU market, promoting innovation, and tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The revised pharmaceutical legislation introduces a shortened period of regulatory protection, reducing it from 10 to 8 years, in order to establish a unified market for new medicines. This protection encompasses 6 years of regulatory data protection and 2 years of market protection. Companies can also benefit from an additional 2 years of data protection if they launch their medicine in all 27 EU member states and an extra 6 months of protection if their medicine addresses unmet medical needs or undergoes comparative clinical trials.

The revised EU pharma legislation also includes provisions for 2 years of market exclusivity for pediatric medicines and 10 years of market exclusivity for orphan drugs. The limited market exclusivity for branded drug manufacturers is expected to give the generic medicine makers more opportunities for production, hence improving the affordability and accessibility of medicines across the EU.

New EU Pharma Legislation Is It a Win-win for All Stakeholders by EOS Intelligence

New EU Pharma Legislation: Is It a Win-win for All Stakeholders by EOS Intelligence

Assessing changes for the European Medicines Agency

The EMA is responsible for the evaluation and approval of new medicines while monitoring the safety and efficacy of the medicine. The revised EU pharmaceutical legislation has bestowed significant responsibilities upon the EMA. These responsibilities encompass expediting data assessments and providing enhanced scientific advice to pharmaceutical companies. The legislation has both positive and negative impact on the EMA.

On the positive side, it aims to harmonize regulatory processes across member states, leading to a more streamlined and efficient system. This is expected to improve the agency’s ability to assess medicines promptly, facilitating faster access to innovative treatments. Additionally, the legislation encourages collaboration among regulatory authorities and promotes international partnerships, which strengthen the EMA’s regulatory capacity and scientific expertise. Further, the new regime is likely to foster EMA to prepare a list of critical medicines and ensure their availability during shortages.

The challenges that EMA might face if the new pharma legislation is passed include increased workload and resource requirements, which may necessitate additional staff, expertise, and funding. Complex areas such as pricing, pharmacovigilance, data transparency, and reimbursement could pose difficulties, potentially leading to delays and discrepancies.

Balancing affordability and access to medicines while incentivizing pharmaceutical companies’ investment in R&D under strict regulations, health technology assessments, and data transparency could be a challenge. EMA might face obstacles in training, resource allocation, and maintaining regulatory consistency. Both positive and negative impact should be considered while implementing the revised legislation.

Overriding drug patents could ensure supply, albeit with challenges

Overriding a drug patent is a legal mechanism allowing governments to bypass the patent protection of medicines and medical technology during emergency situations.

Although it poses challenges to the original patent holder company, including implications on revenue streams, investments, and profitability, it enables the granting of compulsory licenses to generic drug manufacturers, which increases production and reduces prices, particularly during health emergencies, while still considering the rights and interest of patent holders (through compensation for the use of their invention during the emergency period). It also encourages voluntary licensing that allows generic manufacturers to produce and sell products with the patent holder’s permission while respecting patent rights, instead of overriding the patent as it is in compulsory licensing.

Amidst concerns pertaining to intellectual property (IP) rights and the fact that this move might potentially discourage pharma companies from investing in R&D initiatives, the revised EU pharmaceutical legislation proposes overriding drug patents, as it would enhance the availability of affordable and cost-effective medicines throughout the EU. The production of generic drugs and biosimilars is likely to help increase market competition, drive innovation, and introduce improved treatments across the EU, maintaining a competitive edge.

Overriding drug patents might also have ramifications on international trade and relationships, leading to disputes and strained ties between countries. While considering these laws, policymakers need to exercise caution to ensure both accessibility of medicines and adequate investments in R&D.

New EU pharma legislation to benefit Eastern European countries

The difference in access to medicines between Eastern and Western European countries is evident from the fact that from 2015 to 2017, EMA approved 104, 102, and 101 medicines for Germany, Austria, and Denmark, respectively, compared to only 24 in Poland, 16 in Lithuania, and 11 in Latvia. These distinct differences in the availability of medicines between Eastern and Western European countries could be attributed to factors such as stronger healthcare systems in the Western region, higher healthcare budgets, and a greater ability to negotiate pricing and reimbursement agreements with pharmaceutical companies.

Western European countries have relatively better funded and more advanced healthcare infrastructure, including clinics, hospitals, and specialized healthcare services compared to Eastern European countries. Western European countries have a larger capacity to invest in research and development and contribute to the development of new medicines.

Moreover, differences in national healthcare policies contribute to the variation in pharmaceutical benefits and outcomes. The presence of a robust and extensive pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Western European countries allows for faster production and distribution of medical supplies. Consequently, Western European countries generally have better access to medicines and medical supplies compared to Eastern European countries.

The new EU pharmaceutical legislation helps Eastern European countries by reducing the exclusivity period of newly introduced drugs. This measure can prevent branded drug manufacturers from selling drugs exclusively to more affluent countries.

Moreover, according to experts, branded drug manufacturers are likely to only theoretically benefit from a competition-free market for 12 years because the majority of medicines launched by them are unlikely to meet all the new criteria in order to be granted this extended competition-free market access. This might compel branded medicine manufacturers to expand their sales base and sell in Eastern European countries as well to maximize their revenues.

New EU pharma legislation to spur a changing investment landscape

With the approval of new EU pharmaceutical legislation, it is expected that investment plans within the pharmaceutical sector will undergo significant changes. The regulatory changes, which aim to reduce the time and administration burden, could help in attracting lucrative investments by offering faster returns for pharmaceutical companies.

The new legislation can be expected to bring more investments in the R&D and manufacturing sectors by addressing critical healthcare challenges. Furthermore, the availability of generic and biosimilars would also help by creating opportunities for investment in the production/manufacturing of cost-effective medicines.

Moreover, enhancement in transparency and data sharing can also lead to increased collaboration and partnerships in R&D, attracting investments from the public and private sectors in the medical space.

However, investment plans could vary depending upon various factors such as intellectual property rights, market dynamics, competitive landscape, etc. Pharmaceutical companies need to assess new legislation in order to adjust their investment strategies to navigate potential challenges.

EOS Perspective

Analyzing the winning stakeholders of the revised EU pharma legislation could be challenging at this point in time owing to the fact that the new regime focuses on addressing issues of affordability and innovation across the EU which tend to be contradicting. These aims are to be achieved by incentivizing R&D and manufacturing sectors, enhancing market competition, and promoting collaboration.

It cannot be denied that there will be several challenges while enforcing these changes. A few of these challenges include maintaining intellectual property rights, marrying affordability with innovation, and addressing the specific needs of various patients in different countries. Specific resources and coordination will be required to overcome these hurdles. As a result, the success or failure of the EU pharmaceutical legislation for stakeholders will depend on the legislation’s actual implementation, adaptation to changing market dynamics, stakeholder engagement, as well as whether the balance between accessibility, affordability, and innovation while maintaining competitiveness is achieved and maintained in the long term.

Top