A new study suggests that Amgen’s new cholesterol drug Repatha can be very effective in helping patients avoid heart disease. It’s also been found that the drug works very well in lowering LDL cholesterol levels, while reducing the odds of patients dying or getting hospitalized following cardiac events. However, it would also appear that the new medication is extremely expensive for the average consumer, which is priced at $14,000 a year.
According to a report from Kaiser Health News, Repatha is a man-made antibody with the generic name evolocumab. As a form of medication for heart disease, the drug has proven to be effective in reducing the combined risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular-related death by about 20 percent. The drug was first approved in 2015, at a point where it was known that it could reduce levels of bad cholesterol, but not sure whether it could prevent heart attacks.
Given these findings, researchers at the American College of Cardiology believe that it could convince more people to start taking the cholesterol drug. The study on the medication has also driven some, including University of Groningen researcher Dr. Robin Dullaart, to call it a “landmark” discovery.
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However, there are several concerns about Repatha’s prohibitive price tag of $14,000-a-year. Kaiser Health News noted that insurers aren’t quite sure whether they would cover the drug, citing issues with its price and its then-unproven benefits. The report quoted Amgen senior vice president of Global Value and Access Dr. Joshua Ofman, who said that insurers initially reject about three-fourths of all Repatha requests.
Interestingly, Amgen announced on Friday that it will pass on savings to consumers if insurance providers would compromise and reduce their coverage restrictions. Patients would receive refunds for the cholesterol drug’s medical costs, but with the caveat that they need to have had a heart attack or stroke while on Repatha. Ofman was quoted as saying that about 5 percent of the patients in the drug’s trial had these events while on medication, but the chances of having a heart attack or stroke may be “two to three times higher in the real world.”
Reacting to the offer, multiple doctors were mostly critical about the deal, stating that it may be a lose-lose situation for both the patient and their insurance provider.
“It sounds like the patient gets harmed and the payer has its financial risk reduced,” said New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center cardiologist Cam Patterson.
“Why not just reduce the price of the drug and make it more broadly available?”
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In an op-ed for NPR, cardiologist and Yale-New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation director Harlan Krumholz wrote that the benefits of Repatha as a cholesterol drug may not be all that they’re cracked up to be. He opined that the drug is an “effective agent,” but not exactly game-changing in terms of reducing the risk of heart disease, with its effect similar to that of statins.
“That reduction in risk is meaningful – but no new records on risk reduction were set.”
Talking about pricing and value, Krumholz posited that the premium annual cost of the cholesterol drug may not be worth it unless it would truly be a form of medication with unprecedented risk reduction capabilities based on its proven ability to reduce bad cholesterol levels. He noted that access to Repatha and other similar drugs has mostly been difficult, which he believes is a “critically important” issue, as there may be millions of people considering taking these drugs for their heart problems.
In all, Krumholz believes that Amgen did a “solid” job with its study and getting Repatha to market, despite the new questions posed. He suggests that high-risk patients, or those who can’t tolerate statins, talk to their doctor about possibly taking the cholesterol drug as an alternative.
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