Have we finally turned a corner with drug pricing?

Drug developers, economists, and politicians are smart people. But maybe a four-year-old could have predicted this one: What goes up, must come down.

Are drug prices finally on the way down?

Looking at some of the major 2017 approvals thus far, there is some evidence to suggest the culture is slowly shifting.

Even Teva Pharmaceuticals appears to have turned a new leaf. On Tuesday, the Israeli company announced that its Huntington’s disease therapy Austedo (deutetrabenazine) had received an FDA nod. Rather than altering the course of the disease, it helps treat patients’ involuntary movements.

Leerink analyst Jason Gerberry reported that Austedo will be priced at around $60,000 a year. That compares to an older version of the drug called Xenazine (tetrabenazine), which sells for $152,000 per year. A generic version goes for $96,000.

Austedo caps off a progressive few weeks.

In late March, Roche subsidiary Genentech got the green light to market Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) for relapsing-remitting and primary-progressive multiple sclerosis (the latter being an industry first).

Genentech announced an intended list price of $65,000 — pretty reasonable given the drug delivered a 47 percent reduction in annualized relapse rates compared to Rebif, a first-generation MS therapy that sells for around $86,000.

On the same day, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ Dupixent (dupilumab) was approved for moderate-to-severe eczema. It got stamped with a list price of $37,000 a year, a significant discount on older drugs that sell for around $50,000 per year.

Based on EvaluatePharma’s predictions, Ocrevus and Dupixent will be the highest grossing drugs to enter the market in 2017. The pricing on those drugs matters.

Also in March, Newron Pharmaceuticals finally earned U.S. marketing authorization for Xadago (safinamide), an iterative MAO-B inhibitor for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The drug was already approved for sale in Europe.

Xadago doesn’t represent a huge therapeutic gain and Newron – to its credit –priced it that way. Without insurance, a 30-day supply of the drug will cost $670, to be marketed in the United States by US WorldMeds.

This all comes in stark contrast to Marathon Pharmaceuticals, the outlier in the conservative pricing trend. But the public, political and industry reaction to its proposed list price speak volumes too.

After receiving marketing approval for its Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug, Marathon slapped an $89,000 price tag on what is essentially a decades-old corticosteroid, available overseas for around $0.60 per dose.

Marathon eventually backed down after much outcry from the media and a harshly worded letter courtesy of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-Md.). Marathon has since sold the franchise to PTC Therapeutics.

It seems there’s no longer any tolerance for the ‘how far can we push this’ approach. The smart players are instead asking ‘what is reasonable and sustainable in our current healthcare climate?’

But it’s early days. A handful of good examples doesn’t signal an industry shift. That will take many more years and wider changes to the healthcare system.

Photo: TAW4, Getty Images

MedyMatch, Samsung NeuroLogica bring AI to stroke care

Artificial intelligence is continuing to make its mark in the healthcare field.

Tel Aviv, Israel-based MedyMatch Technology and Danvers, Massachusetts-based Samsung NeuroLogica have joined forces to use artificial intelligence to assist patients in prehospital environments.

MedyMatch is an artificial intelligence company. “Our business is based on machine learning,” MedyMatch CEO Gene Saragnese said in a phone interview with MedCity.

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Samsung NeuroLogica is the healthcare subsidiary of Samsung Electronics. “NeuroLogica has been in the CT business for many years,” Saragnese said.

The alliance, which brings together MedyMatch’s AI clinical decision support tools and Samsung NeuroLogica’s medical imaging hardware, was a smart move for the companies, according to Saragnese. “There’s a strong overlap between the two companies,” he said.

Initially, the companies plan to focus on assessing stroke patients. MedyMatch’s AI technologies will be integrated into mobile stroke units and other emergency vehicles that have a portable Samsung NeuroLogica CereTom CT scanner. Through this, the care team will more easily be able to assess whether the patient’s stroke is due to a hemorrhage or a blood clot.

Many of the nearly 800,000 Americans who experience a stroke each year have an ischemic stroke, which can be treated with a tissue plasminogen activator. The tPA must be administered to the patient within three hours of initial signs of stroke, but “it can take an hour after a stroke patient arrives in the emergency department to receive treatment because of the time needed to determine which kind of stroke the patient is having,” the companies point out in a release. By collaborating, MedyMatch and Samsung NeuroLogica are hoping to quicken the treatment process for stroke patients en route to the hospital.

“In stroke care, time is absolutely critical,” Saragnese said. “We want to improve the confidence physicians have in making these decisions.”

But MedyMatch’s goal goes farther than that. Saragnese told MedCity that MedyMatch strives to improve clinical outcomes and ultimately save money. “What we want to do is improve the quality of diagnosis and speed of treatment, and more people will recover from stroke,” he said. “There will also be fewer people in long-term care, and then there will be cost savings.”

MedyMatch launched in February 2016. Though it’s a startup, the company has already begun to make its mark in the healthcare field. Last June, it partnered with Capital Health in New Jersey. Capital Health vowed to help MedyMatch develop a clinical decision support tool for stroke care.

Photo: John Lund, Getty Images