Co-pay help boosts drugs, scares payers

Coupons work. That's what drugmakers have discovered from the co-pay assistance they've been offering to shore up demand for aging branded drugs (Pfizer's statin Lipitor), create demand for new ones (such as Amgen's bone drug Xgeva and Novartis' multiple sclerosis pill Gilenya), and insulate patients from big price increases (Jazz Pharmaceuticals' narcolepsy treatment Xyrem). As the New York Times reports, sales volume for some of these treatments has doubled, and pharma companies have as much as quadrupled the sticker price for others.

Drugmakers contend that their co-pay coupons help consumers and let doctors prescribe new or costly meds without worrying about prices. But payers are feeling the pinch. Medicis' coupon program for its acne drug Solodyn almost doubled one insurer's antibiotics bill almost overnight, the Times reports.

Amgen now offers co-pay assistance for its Nplate and Neulasta blood-boosting treatments, as well as its new Xgeva bone drug, with no income eligibility requirements; its First Step program pays 100 percent of the patients' costs for initial injections and all but $25 per treatment after that, up to a $5,000 limit every six months. Novartis is launching its new multiple sclerosis drug Gilenya with 100 percent co-pay assistance. Bristol-Myers Squibb provides $200 per month in co-pay help on the AIDS drugs Atripla, Reyataz and Sustiva (which is scheduled to go off patent next year). Cephalon is supporting its Nuvigil drug with co-pay assistance as its predecessor, Provigil, faces generic competition.

And as the NYT notes, Pfizer recently launched a co-pay assistance program on Lipitor, its megablockbuster cholesterol drug that goes off patent later this year, while Jazz Pharmaceuticals has used co-pay programs to soften the blow of its big price increases on the narcolepsy drug Xyrem, which now runs some $30,000 per year. "We think the public wins," Medicis CEO Jonah Shacknai tells the Times. Likewise, Leerink Swann analyst Joshua Schimmer calls high prices plus co-pay assistance is "the best strategy" for a pharma company. Payers, on the other hand, don't know how to fight back.

- get the NYT story
- see the Amgen program