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REGULATORY LANDSCAPE

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Charting the RegTech Journey: Navigating Consolidation

RegTech, short for regulatory technology and often categorized as a subset of fintech, emerged in 2015. The RegTech industry was fragmented, with numerous small players targeting specific niches within the regulatory compliance landscape. However, the recent trend towards consolidation is reshaping the sector. Larger RegTech firms are increasingly acquiring smaller players to expand their offerings and solidify their market positions.

RegTech comprises powerful tools that leverage advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automated machine learning (AML), and big data analytics. These technologies streamline regulatory compliance processes, addressing challenges from technology-driven economies, largely through automation. Automation plays a significant role in reassuring regulatory compliance professionals about the effectiveness and efficiency of RegTech solutions.

According to a 2023 report by Corlytics, a Dublin-based regulatory risk intelligence firm, regulatory penalties associated with legal and regulatory enforcement in the financial sector exceeded US$10.5 billion globally. This underscores the escalating pressure on financial institutions to comply with regulations, prompting them to turn to innovative technological solutions. RegTech has emerged as a promising avenue for organizations within the fintech ecosystem to efficiently navigate complex regulatory landscapes while reducing cost and time and improving compliance effectiveness.

Market landscape transformation through investments and strategic acquisitions

Investors increasingly recognize RegTech’s potential, and it remains a bright spot within the fintech ecosystem. Data from UK-based financial market platform Dealogic shows 116 global RegTech deals in 2023 with a total value of more than US$13.5 billion, demonstrating significant investment activity in the sector. Last year witnessed notable acquisitions across various markets, with larger financial services corporations and RegTech vendors acquiring smaller players to strengthen their market position through consolidation.

Key transactions, such as the acquisition of Adenza by Nasdaq for US$10.5 billion in 2023 and Finellix by Stellex Capital for US$176 million in 2022, underline the strategic importance of RegTech solutions for both financial and technology companies.

These developments reflect a broad strategic move to address the escalating compliance costs faced by banks and brokerages in the wake of regulatory reforms such as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (simply known as the Dodd-Frank Act). The Dodd-Frank Act, introduced in the USA in 2010 following the 2007–2008 financial crisis, has had a profound impact on the global financial sector. The Act has prompted financial institutions globally to significantly improve their regulatory reporting systems and processes, leading to more extensive adoption of technology solutions. Dodd-Frank and other stringent regulatory measures have significantly increased compliance costs for financial institutions and companies operating in various sectors.

Larger financial services firms and RegTech companies are consolidating to integrate complementary financial solutions and expand their operations. In one such development, US-based automated RegTech player CUBE acquired UK-based counterpart The Hub Technology in 2023 to further boost their automated regulatory intelligence (ARI) abilities to reduce compliance risk and cost.

Consolidation within the RegTech sector aims to empower larger entities to effectively tackle challenges related to anti-financial crime measures, cross-selling opportunities, and regulatory compliance services, primarily among banking and brokerage clients. This strategy aims to diversify revenue streams, broaden market reach, and increase the serviceable market.

Simultaneously, M&A offers small and mid-size RegTech companies a strategic avenue to enhance capabilities, achieve accelerated growth, better competitive market positioning, and maximize value. While acquisitions often lead to integration within the larger corporate structure, there is still room for acquired smaller RegTech companies to maintain a level of independence.

In 2023, Corlytics acquired the UK-based RegTech firm Clausematch to integrate its capabilities into a comprehensive platform for managing the regulatory risk value chain for tier-1 clients. Despite the acquisition, Clausematch maintains its independence and is a strategic partner to Corlytics. It continues to serve existing clients while also extending its services to Corlytics tier-1 clients, including 14 of the top 50 global banks. This autonomy can be instrumental in fostering partnerships that are essential for scaling up and achieving sustainable growth in the ever-changing fintech regulatory ecosystem that demands agility and continuous innovation.

The appeal of RegTech’s one-stop-shop model

The concept of a one-stop shop model in the RegTech industry, facilitated by consolidation, appeals to businesses seeking streamlined and comprehensive compliance solutions. In the evolving financial market landscape, clients are increasingly preferring to consolidate their RegTech solutions under a single provider rather than engaging with multiple vendors. This demand stems from the desire for streamlined processes, reduced administrative burden, cost savings, and seamless integration of services.

RegTech companies can meet this demand and improve the overall customer experience by offering comprehensive end-to-end solutions and value-added services. In 2023, Muinmos, a Denmark-based RegTech company, saw substantial revenue growth as more clients flocked to the firm. This surge was attributed to Muinmos’ comprehensive platform, which manages the entire onboarding process, spanning from KYC/AML procedures to risk assessments and regulatory classification.

Through strategic acquisitions of smaller RegTech firms with specialized solutions, RegTech solution providers can further enhance their offerings, capitalizing on the trend for integrated solutions and establishing a competitive edge in the market.

Partnerships with smaller firms provide larger companies in the RegTech sector with advantages such as accelerated time-to-market and the opportunity to serve as a testing ground, paving the way for potential future acquisitions.

RegTech startups joining forces

Many RegTech startups are partnering to provide a broader range of regulatory solutions to their clients by enhancing their platforms and adding compatible services from other partners. This forms a robust entity with expanded capabilities to compete with established players.

In November 2023, Flagright, a German-based startup specializing in AML compliance and fraud prevention, formed a strategic alliance with Regtank Technology, a Singapore-based RegTech services provider. This partnership underscores their joint commitment to developing an advanced transaction monitoring solution for fintech companies using AI/ML algorithms. Additionally, these partnerships are likely to help startups reach more customers across various geographies, solving risk and compliance challenges for more businesses.

The double-edged sword of consolidation

For existing and emerging RegTech companies, consolidation presents a double-edged sword. As larger players consolidate and dominate the market, there may be fewer opportunities for investment in smaller, emerging RegTech startups. Investors may perceive greater risk in backing smaller players when larger, more established firms offer similar or more comprehensive solutions. This could lead to a concentration of investment in a few key players, potentially stifling innovation and diversity in the market.

Consolidation impact on the RegTech investment landscape

With fewer startups and a more prominent role for established players, the overall number of investment opportunities in RegTech may slow down in the short term. This could lead to a shift in focus from rapid innovation to the successful integration of acquired technologies as larger players seek to leverage their expanded capabilities and market presence.

Challenges faced by small firms and emerging startups

Consolidation within the RegTech sector could heighten entry barriers for new and smaller firms. Small companies are likely to face resource constraints compared to their larger counterparts. They may struggle to match the scale of investment, R&D capabilities, and market reach of consolidated firms, potentially limiting their ability to innovate and expand their market reach.

Opportunity for small vendors due to consolidation

Consolidation could create gaps in the market for specialized RegTech solutions catering to unaddressed regulatory needs within the RegTech industry. Consolidation efforts in the RegTech sector mainly target large tier-1 clients, including large banks and other financial institutions. However, there are potential gaps and opportunities in smaller businesses across non-financial verticals that require tailored regulatory solutions. This would likely prompt smaller companies to carve out niche areas of specialization within the evolving RegTech landscape.

Specializing in particular regulatory domains, industries, or technological niches allows smaller firms to distinguish themselves as providers of specialized solutions. This makes them appealing targets for acquisition or partnerships by larger players, driven by the ongoing consolidation trends in the RegTech sector.

EOS Perspective

Traditionally, many RegTech companies evolved as single-point solutions for specific regulations. The market is witnessing a shift away from multi-point solutions that address specific issues and moving towards modular solutions that offer flexibility and can be reconfigured to address diverse problems and industry verticals. This shift is likely to drive further consolidation as regulated entities seek mature, cost-effective solutions tailored to their needs.

Conventionally, RegTech solutions have primarily targeted large enterprises with significant budgets. However, we are witnessing a notable shift, as small RegTech companies are now offering affordable compliance solutions tailored to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well. This shift is driven by the recognition of unique regulatory challenges faced by different sectors, such as healthcare, insurance, and energy. This recognition prompts small RegTech players to tap into opportunities arising from the growing demand for industry-specific RegTech solutions. This trend reflects a broader movement within the RegTech industry towards democratizing access to compliance tools and addressing the specific needs of diverse business sectors.

With venture funding slowing down due to the economic downturn, a rise in M&A activities is anticipated in the coming years. Due to the time-consuming nature of decision-making around procuring RegTech solutions by regulated entities, major RegTech players are expected to focus on developing and offering sticky RegTech solutions to ensure stable and recurring revenue growth. Consequently, this trend is likely to drive further consolidation within the large RegTech sector, as evidenced by Corolytics’ acquisition of ING SparQ RegTech and Clausematch in 2023, followed by a substantial investment from Verdane, an investment firm, in April 2024. This investment is poised to accelerate Corlytics’ M&A activity, signaling a shift towards the emergence of technology partners that provide unified platforms by integrating solutions from multiple firms through consolidation.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

IRA: Are Patients Winning at the Cost of the US Pharma Sectoral Growth?

The market reaction to the US Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is mostly mixed. It is expected to change the pharma industry dynamics in terms of the competitive positioning and product pricing of those companies projected to be negatively impacted by the IRA. The answer to whether the IRA will be able to curb rising healthcare costs in the USA lies in the legislation’s on-the-ground application.

IRA to decrease prescription drug prices via a four-pronged strategy

Prices of prescription drugs in the USA are 2.78 times higher than in 33 other countries analyzed in a 2024 report published by RAND, a public policy think tank.

In pursuit of reducing healthcare costs in the USA, the Biden government passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022. One of the major goals of the act includes the reduction of prices of prescription drugs.

This is expected to be achieved through a four-pronged strategy, the mainstay of which involves the US federal government negotiating the prices of some high-priced prescription drugs covered under Medicare.

The second prong includes pharmaceutical firms paying a rebate to Medicare if they raise the price of prescription medicines covered under Medicare by a rate that is higher than the inflation rate.

The monthly cost of insulin for Medicare patients is capped at US$35, as the third prong.

The fourth prong aims to reduce prescription drug prices by capping the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare Part D patients at US$4,000 in 2024 and US$2,000 in 2025.

IRA Are Patients Winning at the Cost of the US Pharma Sectoral Growth by EOS Intelligence

IRA Are Patients Winning at the Cost of the US Pharma Sectoral Growth by EOS Intelligence

Pharma companies to suffer more due to IRA compared to projected government savings

Under the IRA, large pharmaceutical companies, defined as those with over US$1 billion in net profits, are required to pay a minimum of 15% annual taxes, a financial burden on these companies. Analysts predict that the annual revenue from corporate taxes could be to the tune of US$222 billion. Furthermore, the IRA is expected to save over US$287 billion for ten years from the roll-out, as per the estimates of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Apart from the increased financial burden on some companies, experts foresee potential adverse impact on several pharmaceutical companies based in the USA to a considerable extent.

The pharma companies witnessing the least to no impact are the ones with their primary operations based outside the USA, biologics or large molecule drug producers, and the ones that do not receive government funding for R&D. This is because of the differing timelines under IRA for negotiating the prices of biologics and small molecules. Biologics’ timeline is 11 years after FDA approval, while small molecule drugs are eligible after 7 years. Therefore, Medicare negotiations will begin four years earlier for a small molecule drug that has received approval at the same time as a large molecule biologic drug.

Apart from these adverse effects, such as differential treatment of small molecule drugs compared to biologics under Medicare price negotiation timelines, there are some other negative impacts on the overall US pharma industry, such as diminishing competition among generic drug producers, decreased discovery of new treatments, and new uses of existing drugs.

IRA to affect the revenues of top pharma companies surely but variably

There are differing viewpoints regarding the impact of IRA on pharmaceutical companies’ revenue. One group of experts suggests that Medicare prescription drug negotiations under the IRA will depend on the expiration of the drug’s patent. Other experts expressed their opinion that irrespective of when a drug loses exclusivity, a significant threat to drug revenues comes from the competition entering the market and not from lower negotiated drug prices.

The first group of experts states that lower negotiated prices in 2026 are expected to have a lower impact on medicines projected to witness revenue loss owing to patent expiry around the same time. One such example of a drug losing its exclusivity in the USA in 2025 is Stelara by Janssen Biotech approved for treating psoriasis.

In contrast, pharma companies producing medicines that are expected to witness competition from their generic counterparts after 2026 are projected to lose revenue owing to lower negotiated prices even before the drugs lose exclusivity. However, some companies’ revenue will be affected more than others.

Medicare price negotiations to hit revenues of some drugmakers drastically

The pharma industry’s revenue is expected to decrease by 2% due to the new measures brought about by the IRA, as per a 2022 report by Morningstar, a US financial services firm. Among the companies that will be highly affected are Novo Nordisk, Gilead, Bristol Myers Squibb, AbbVie, and AstraZeneca. In contrast, others, such as Pfizer, Merck, Roche, and Novartis, will not be as much impacted by Medicare price negotiations.

Some 15% of global branded drug sales come from Medicare in the USA, as per Morningstar estimates. Therefore, the impact of the IRA on pharmaceutical companies depends on their reliance on Medicare sales, price adjustments, high-cost specialized drugs, and extended patent protection.

Medicare prescription drug negotiations are projected to impact pharma companies the most among all IRA measures, although this impact might not be uniform across the players. On the other hand, Medicare negotiations are projected to save the government approximately US$100 billion through 2031. The pharma companies facing the highest revenue losses include Novo Nordisk, Gilead, and AstraZeneca.

When the Medicare price negotiation measures start to roll out in 2026, two drugs of Novo Nordisk, namely, Ozempic and Rybelsus, that are approved to treat type 2 diabetes, are expected to witness an 8% decline in their projected revenue through 2031, as per Morningstar. Gilead’s Biktarvy, which treats HIV-1 infections, is expected to be subject to price negotiation in 2027 and thereby face a projected revenue loss of 7% through 2031. On similar lines, Calquence (to treat mantle cell lymphoma) and Tagrisso (to treat non-small cell lung cancer) drugs of AstraZeneca are expected to lose 6% revenues through 2031 owing to Medicare price negotiations.

In contrast, considering the existing portfolios, Pfizer, Merck, Bristol Myers, and BioMarin are expected to witness no revenue loss due to Medicare negotiations.

Medicare inflation caps to impact major pharma companies negatively

Another important IRA measure is Medicare inflation caps. This measure involves drug producers paying penalties for increasing drug prices beyond the inflation rate. It is expected to result in US$62 billion in government savings through 2031.

Around March 2023, the US federal government, along with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), released a list of 27 drugs whose prices were increased by their manufacturers at a higher rate than the inflation rate. This list included AbbVie’s Humira (to treat Crohn’s Disease) and Astellas Pharma’s and Seagen’s Padcev (to treat urothelial cancer). Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer are among other impacted companies by Medicare inflation caps. Pfizer had the most drugs on the list, with a total of five.

Bristol Myers Squibb is one of the pharma companies that is expected to be highly impacted by Medicare inflation caps. The company’s drugs, such as Eliquis (to treat or prevent blood clots), Opdivo (to treat melanoma), Orencia (to treat rheumatoid arthritis), and Yervoy (to treat various cancer types) are among the medicines that are expected to face revenue loss owing to inflation caps. Other drugs on the list include Novo Nordisk’s drugs such as Novolog and Levemir (both for type 1 diabetes) and Victoza (for type 2 diabetes), Johnson & Johnson’s drugs such as Imbruvica (to treat certain cancers) and Xarelto (to treat or prevent blood clots), along with Novartis’s Sandostatin (for severe diarrhea and flushing related to metastatic carcinoid tumors).

In contrast, Merck is not expected to face any revenue loss due to inflation caps, while GSK, Regeneron, Roche, and Sanofi are projected to witness minimal revenue loss as these companies have not raised the prices of their drugs beyond the inflation rate.

IRA to potentially reduce competition from generics

According to the IRA, following the price negotiations of some of the branded drugs, manufacturers of the generic versions of such drugs will have less scope to charge a reduced price for those drugs. This would disincentivize the generic drug producers to manufacture generic versions of the already low-priced branded drugs.

EOS Perspective

The IRA represents a substantial change in the US legislation that strives to make healthcare more affordable to Americans through increased access to more reasonably priced prescription medicines.

However, IRA can be expected to affect small-molecule drugmakers more negatively than biologics. Moreover, some pharmaceutical companies are projected to feel the pinch more than others in terms of revenue losses.

Companies such as Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, and the pharmaceutical association PhRMA have filed lawsuits against some provisions of the IRA, stating that they are unconstitutional. Bristol Myers Squibb and J&J are planning to appeal after the US court dismissed the IRA lawsuits. These pharmaceutical companies are trying to find ways to circumvent the negative impact of the legislation.

IRA is also expected to negatively impact R&D and medical innovation. This is evident from the fact that biopharma companies have reduced their R&D efforts in the neuroscience space, especially since a lot of development work in this space involves small-molecule drugs. Moreover, as IRA exempts only one orphan drug from price negotiation, investments in R&D for orphan drugs are likely to get deprioritized. Many pharmaceutical companies are reconsidering their R&D planning and investment strategies to counter the effect of IRA.

IRA is clearly not a win-win strategy for all stakeholders. Pharmaceutical companies are mostly at the losing end, while patients could be winners. Considering all the positives and negatives of IRA, only time will tell the actual impact of the legislation on the overall pharmaceutical 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

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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.

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Europe AI Regulation Deal – Beginning of a New Technological Era?

The proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) applications in recent years has highlighted the importance of regulatory frameworks to ensure AI’s responsible use. Recognizing this, the EU has become the first global power to pass AI-related legislation. The EU AI Act, considered a watershed moment in today’s digital era, is expected to create ripples worldwide and prompt leaders to take initiatives to control the use of AI.

The AI industry, valued at US$454.1 billion in 2022, is predicted to reach US$2.6 trillion by 2032, according to a 2023 report by Canada/India-based market research company Precedence Research. Although this impressive increase in the use of AI offers immense potential, it has raised numerous concerns about its misuse. Many industry experts have voiced concern about how significantly AI impacts important industries such as education and health, and may eventually alter human lives.

Regulatory bodies and governments worldwide are also now aware of the risks of bias, discrimination, and privacy breaches that come with the unrestricted use of AI. A 2020 study published in Sustainable Development, an interdisciplinary journal, found that unchecked AI poses a threat to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN.

The EU took its first step in addressing concerns related to AI in April 2021 when it released the first draft of EU AI regulation. However, this draft was revised after the 2022 release of ChatGPT to include the newer technological advances with a future-proof approach that will enable the law to evolve as technology does.

The EU AI rule uses a risk-based strategy to divide AI systems into categories, namely unacceptable, high, limited, and minimal risk. Systems categorized in the unacceptable risk group will be banned, and those with high risk will undergo a rigorous assessment to understand their effect on fundamental rights and be given a CE mark before their market release.

The limited risk category that fulfills specific transparency requirements should follow EU copyright laws, prepare technical documentation, and release a synopsis of the training materials so the users can make an informed decision. Companies can release minimal-risk systems, such as spam filters and AI-powered video games, without restrictions.

The AI Act has also introduced certain transparency requirements for general-purpose AI (GPAI) models such as Gemini and ChatGPT. For powerful and highly effective models, there are additional risk management requirements, such as maintaining cybersecurity standards, conducting evaluations, assessing and mitigating risks, and reporting serious events.

The EU AI Act has several implications for business across the continent

Many industry experts consider the EU AI Act a significant regulatory tool for overseeing the advancement and utilization of AI technologies throughout the continent. The enforcement of this act is expected to influence significantly the operations, approaches, and competitive environment across several sectors in the EU, as well as intercontinental business with products traded in the European market.

Achieving compliance is one of the main challenges businesses will face with the introduction of the new EU AI law. The law comes with a hefty penalty for non-compliance, with most violations costing businesses €15 million, or 3% of their annual global turnover. Non-compliance concerning banned AI systems can result in fines of up to €35 million, or 7% of the company’s annual turnover. Furthermore, providing false, deceptive, or incomplete information may result in fines of up to €7.5 million, or 1.5% of the total turnover.

Any organization aiming for compliance needs to perform a gap analysis to identify disparities and enhance company processes, policies, and metrics. They must also provide the regulators with accurate, efficient, and timely answers. All these place a substantial organizational and economic burden on the companies.

Another challenge businesses can face is implementing all the changes needed to fill the compliance gap while being consistent with their internal structure. This will require the company to identify the metrics it needs to track to achieve compliance and design new organizational procedures to fulfill this. This should also be done in such a way that it does not hinder other strategic goals, such as innovation, budgetary constraints, etc., placing additional strain on the leadership.

Companies offering multiple AI solutions can face several complicated roadblocks with the implementation of the EU AI Act. Such organizations will be subject to a different set of regulations depending on the risk category of their AI products. This can lead to internal policy confusion.

Slower product development cycles and delays in product releases are other bottlenecks that companies will need to address with the act’s implementation. New AI-powered products, especially high-risk ones, now need to undergo more rigorous evaluation to ensure compliance, which can slow the entire process.

Players can also face challenges in M&A activities with the new regulations. Businesses will now need to spend more time and resources assessing the compliance of their merging partner before proceeding.

There are several opportunities for determined businesses

While the implementation of the EU AI Act does spell several challenges for businesses, it also offers opportunities for interested players. With the new act in place, customers will be able to place more trust in AI solutions. This will enhance the adoption of new AI-based systems.

Determined players can also improve innovation and gain investment with the help of Article 53 of the Act. This section states the possibility of establishing “regulatory sandboxes” that can be set up by one or more member states. These sandboxes offer controlled environments for developing, testing, and validating new AI technologies for a short time under the guidance of a competent authority. This will also ensure that the AI solutions fulfill regulatory compliance.

The EU AI Act offers special support measures to start-ups and SMEs. The compliance requirements for high-risk AI have been modified to make them less burdensome and technically feasible. Start-ups and SMEs also get a proportional cap on compliance infringement fines. This will make it easier for budding businesses in the AI sector to make leaps in innovation and product development.

Interested EU-based players can also receive support for product development through programs such as Testing and Experimentation Facilities, Data and Robotics Hubs, Digital Innovation Hubs, etc. The AI Office, set up by the EU AI Act to oversee the rules and regulations related to GPAI models, has established forums where stakeholders can exchange best practices and contribute to rules of conduct and practice. This can improve participation across industries and enhance inclusiveness.

EOS Perspective

The EU AI Act can be considered a landmark development in the regulation of AI technologies in Europe. It has extensive implications for businesses, society, and the economy on the continent and worldwide. Many industry leaders consider this act a starting point in AI regulation. Other countries are expected to follow in the EU’s footsteps soon and make similar laws curbing the effects of unregulated AI.

The EU AI Act is expected to make AI-based solutions safe and bias-free, with better transparency into their developmental processes. It is also expected to enhance accountability and create a more responsible approach to AI development and deployment.

Businesses, especially SMEs and start-ups, can expect several benefits from this act. Experts predict that with the renewed focus on safety and ethical issues, there will be large-scale development of far more trustworthy and robust AI-based solutions in the future.

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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.

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

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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

Commentary: EU Push the Maritime Operators to Boost Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity in the maritime sector is of critical importance as sea routes accounted for about three-fourths of the EU’s imports and exports in 2022. The new Network and Information Systems Security Directive (“NIS2 Directive”) aiming to strengthen cybersecurity is expected to enter into force from October 2024 and will impact maritime companies with more than 50 employees or an annual revenue of over €10 million. The NIS2 directive, which will replace and repeal the NIS directive, expands the scope to cover a larger number of companies in the sector as it includes both medium and large-size companies.

Companies may feel burdened by strict NIS2 requirements

To comply with the new requirements, the companies would need to make cyber risk management a focal point for every business strategy and make cybersecurity measures a part of day-to-day operations. NIS2 adoption will not only demand additional investment but also change the way the business is done.

  • Increase in cybersecurity investments

A total of 156 entities in the water transport sector were subject to the NIS directive in July 2016, as it focused mainly on large enterprises. Under NIS2, this number is likely to increase to 380. In particular, the number of port and terminal operators covered in NIS2 will increase significantly. A senior IT executive from Port of Rotterdam indicated that while NIS covered only a few port stakeholders (~5 companies), more than a hundred companies would need to comply with NIS2.

European Commission indicated that the companies already covered under the NIS directive would need to increase their IT security spending by 12%, while for the companies that were not covered previously but would be covered under the NIS2 framework, the IT security spending would need to be increased by up to 22%.

Frontier Economics, a consultancy firm based in Europe, estimated that the costs of implementing the NIS2 regulation in medium and large enterprises across the water transport sector would be about 0.5% of the total annual revenue across the medium and large water transport companies, which amounts to more than €225 million per year.

  • Enhancement of OT security

The advent of digitization has resulted in rapid convergence of operational technology (OT) with IT systems, leaving critical OT infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks. OT helps monitor and control mechanical processes, making them particularly important for the safe operation of ports and other aspects of the maritime sector.

ENISA, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, indicated that from January 2021 to October 2022, ransomware attacks on IT systems were the most prominent cyber threat facing the transport sector and warned that ransomware groups are likely to target OT systems in the near future. NIS2 imposes stringent requirements for critical infrastructure entities, including maritime companies, to beef up cybersecurity from the perspective of both IT and OT.

Traditionally, maritime companies have considered cyber security primarily in the context of IT systems, but now there is a higher focus on OT cybersecurity, and the NIS2 is going to ensure investment momentum in this space. For instance, the Maritime Cyber Priority 2023 report indicated that over three-fourths of the respondents suggested that OT cyber security is a significantly higher priority compared to two years ago.

While NIS2 adoption may seem taxing, benefits are likely to follow

Like any new regulation, the adoption of NIS2 comes with additional costs and implementation hurdles, however, the consequent benefits are likely to outweigh the challenges.

  • Harmonization of cybersecurity requirements

In August 2023, a senior executive from Mission Secure, an OT cyber security solutions provider, indicated that maritime operators would welcome stringent cybersecurity standards. The maritime industry operates on thin profit margins, making it difficult for companies to invest more in cybersecurity than competitors. Implementation of NIS2 would set cybersecurity standards harmonized across the EU and thus level the playing field in terms of spending on cybersecurity while reducing the risks and losses associated with cyberattacks.

  • Improved competitiveness

A 2020 study by ENISA suggested that the EU organizations’ cybersecurity spending is, on average, 41% lower than of their US counterparts. NIS2 is expected to drive the necessary investments in cybersecurity.

Moreover, given the international nature of the maritime industry, the adoption of the NIS2 directive will help the operators keep up with similar cybersecurity regulations around the world. For instance, Australia reformed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in 2022 to address the evolving cyber threat landscape. The UK, while no longer part of the EU, is in the process of revising the cybersecurity regulation for critical infrastructure operators in line with NIS2.

EOS Perspective

Upon implementation of NIS2, maritime operators will need to invest in more effective cybersecurity requirements, potentially increasing costs in the short term. Despite this, the increased investment will result in a more secure and resilient industry in the long run, and companies that are able to invest heavily in security are going to gain a competitive advantage over those that are not able to do so.

Digitization and connected technology in the maritime sector are evolving faster than its ability to regulate it. Hence, the maritime sector should view NIS2 as just another measure to elevate the cybersecurity framework. Companies need to be agile and flexible to adapt to the evolving cyber threat landscape.

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