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Could a value-based purchasing agreement with the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services have saved Aduhelm?

Lyfegen Editorial Team

CMS may want to consider value-based purchasing arrangements for Alzheimer’s Disease drugs


The Alzheimer’s Disease biologic Aduhelm (aducanumab) – a beta amyloid-directed monoclonal antibody - has experienced a tremendous amount of controversy regarding its safety and efficacy, both before and after its approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2021.

A decision in April of this year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to place severe limitations on coverage of Aduhelm has all but killed the drug’s chances of success. And, even after Aduhelm’s original wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of $56,000 was cut in half, there were very few takers in both the public and commercial payer spaces. Aduhelm’s “failure” to this point is partly to blame for the departure of Biogen’s CEO, Michel Vounatsos.

Could Biogen’s Aduhelm have been saved by a value-based purchasing agreement with CMS, in which Medicare Administrative Contractors and Medicare Advantage Plans only pay for Aduhelm if it provides clinical benefits to patients? Possibly. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, such an arrangement could still be used for other beta amyloid-directed monoclonal antibodies that are currently in late stages of development and are less controversial than Aduhelm.

Under the final national coverage determination (NCD) issued in April by CMS, Medicare will severely restrict coverage of Aduhelm. Concretely, the decision implies that only Medicare beneficiaries who have enrolled in CMS-authorized randomized controlled clinical trials will get coverage of Aduhelm.

In addition, under the NCD, CMS states that, if approved by FDA, the entire class of beta amyloid-directed monoclonal antibodies will be subject to restricted reimbursement. For example, all accelerated approvals must undergo post-marketing clinical trials, analogous to the stringent requirements imposed on Aduhelm. And even beta amyloid-directed Alzheimer’s Disease drugs that go through the regular approval process must enter a coverage with evidence development protocol, which implies that post-approval collection of data in patient registries will be mandatory.

In its NCD decision, CMS did not mention a value-based purchasing agreement. Nor did it reference Aduhelm’s WAC. Given that CMS is not permitted to take cost or cost-effectiveness into account, it perhaps makes sense that Aduhelm’s WAC wasn’t mentioned.

Nevertheless, at a regional level, a value-based purchasing agreement is something Medicare Administrative Contractors and Medicare Advantage Plans could have pursued. In addition, nationally, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has the authority to test models which modify Medicare payments for certain high-priced drugs. These models are designed to introduce a value-based approach for drugs that have been approved with limited evidence. Certainly, the class of beta amyloid-directed monoclonal antibodies fit this description.

Here, a linkage between pay and performance would need to be established, along with the proper timing of the measurement of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s Disease patients. Performance measures could include the kinds of validated cognitive assessments outlined in the NCD.

Last year, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review conducted a preliminary analysis of Aduhelm, extrapolating from Phase 3 data. ICER concluded that Aduhelm was not cost-effective, given the drug’s WAC, and that a cost-effective price benchmark range for would be between $3,000 and $8,400 per year for early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease patients, which is much lower than the current WAC of $28,000.

ICER’s assessment was not based on real world evidence, however. In any CMS-initiated value-based purchasing arrangement, there would be real world evidence, and accordingly adjustments could be made to the acceptable price range of the product. This could have applied to Aduhelm, but may still be relevant in future with respect to other beta amyloid-directed monoclonal antibodies, which are presently in Phase 3. These include Biogen/Eisai’s lecanemab, Roche’s donanemab, and Roche’s gantenerumab.

Aduhelm’s ship has perhaps sailed, with the baggage of the FDA approval controversy and the requirement of a randomized controlled clinical trial for any coverage at all. Nevertheless, value-based arrangements could very much be in play for other beta amyloid-directed monoclonal antibodies.

Undoubtedly this would be a major undertaking, particularly logistically. And, getting CMS to buy in won’t be easy. But, there’s precedent for CMS wanting to pursue value-based agreements. To illustrate, at the time of FDA’s approval of the CAR-T therapy Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) in 2017 – indicated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia - it was accompanied by the announcement of a novel outcomes-based agreement with CMS, in which CMS would pay for Kymriah only if patients had responded to it by the end of the first month. Without disclosing why, CMS quietly backed away from that agreement.

Maybe the substantial unmet need in Alzheimer’s Disease will trigger CMS to consider alternative approaches to reimbursement. And, if any of the beta-amyloid directed monoclonal antibodies are approved in Europe or the U.K., similar value-based arrangements may be an option for payers.

Partnering with Lyfegen may be the solution for manufacturers and payers alike, as its platform can put users on the right track towards successful implementation of value-based purchasing agreements. The Lyfegen platform identifies and operationalizes value-based payment models in a cost-effective manner.

About the author

Cohen is a health economist with more than 25 years of experience analyzing, publishing, and presenting on drug and diagnostic pricing and reimbursement, as well as healthcare policy reform initiatives. For 21 years, Cohen was an academic at Tufts University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Amsterdam. Currently, and for the past five years, Cohen is an independent healthcare analyst and consultant on a variety of research, teaching, speaking, editing, and writing projects.


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