The uphill battle for value-based drug pricing agreements may be coming to an end

The Lyfegen Editorial Team

The high-costs of newer drug treatments make the adoption of non-traditional, value-based drug purchasing arrangements a necessity for healthcare payers and administrators trying to manage their budgets, provide patients with quicker access to the most effective treatments, and reduce wasteful spending on treatments that don’t work. Recent regulatory changes and advanced AI contracting software options are making value-based drug pricing arrangements easier.


Even before the onset of the pandemic, annual budgets for public and private healthcare insurers were strained by the high and increasing costs of prescription drugs. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical manufacturers are bringing new and even more expensive drug treatments to market each year. According to Bloomberg, the median list price for a year’s supply of a new drug introduced to the U.S. market in 2021 was $180,007.

Thanks to COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-related treatments, pharmaceutical sales reached record levels in 2021. Sales in North America account for close to half of the total $7.3 billion global market revenue for that year. And since prescription drug prices are higher in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, the increasing costs of drugs are a top concern for policy makers, healthcare payers, and consumers.

New, more expensive drug therapies are in development

A growing niche and focus for pharmaceutical companies is high-cost cell and gene therapy products. Market analysis by Grand View Research forecasts the global cell and gene therapy clinical trials market to reach a compound annual growth rate of close to 15% and an estimated market revenue of USD 24.5 billion by 2030.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only a limited number of cell and gene therapies so far, expedited approvals of new drugs and favorable designations of new therapies as orphan drug or breakthrough therapies support increasing consumption of these new drug therapies in the U.S. market. The FDA predicts that by 2025, it will approve up to 20 cell and gene therapy products a year.

Healthcare payers and consumers feel the pain of higher drug prices

Even though payers are getting rebates and not paying drug manufacturers’ full list prices, they still have cause for concern as drug prices increase annually. Payers need to protect their annual budgets from outsized expenditures, especially for specialty drugs.

Both payers and patients suffer the effects of high and increasing drug prices. A study of 14.4 million pharmacy claims made from 2010 to 2016 revealed the median healthcare insurer payments for specialty medications rose by 116%; the median patient out-of-pocket costs increased by 85%. Drug list prices during the same 7-year period more than doubled, rising faster than inflation.

Drug manufacturers recognize the need for non-traditional, value-based payment arrangements

A new cell or gene therapy’s price tag may generate as much attention as the drug’s ability to treat disease. For example, one of the most expensive drug therapies in the world is Zolgensma, approved by the FDA in 2019. Novartis Gene Therapies (formerly AveXis) developed the drug to be a cure for around 500 infants born each year in the U.S. with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). A full course of treatment is priced at $2.125 million.

Soon after Zolgensma received FDA approval, some of the top U.S. insurers quickly set up tight restrictions limiting coverage of the treatment. To help payers manage the impact of the cost and ensure patient access to Zolgensma, Novartis offers insurers the option of either a 5-year, pay-over-time contract or an outcome-based agreement.

The list price of Zyntelgo, the latest gene therapy to be approved by the FDA, surpassed Zolgensma as the world’s most expensive one-time drug therapy. Zyntelgo was developed by bluebird bio as a single-use treatment for an inherited blood disorder, beta thalassemia. According to bluebird, Zyntelgo’s price of $2.8 million is a good value when compared to the estimated $6.4 million worth of lifetime care costs for a patient living with beta thalassemia.

Estimates suggest that only around 850 patients in the U.S. will meet the criteria for treatment with Zyntelgo, and not all of those who are eligible will want the drug. Predictions of Zyntelgo’s annual sales revenue range from $64 million to $200 million.

The majority of patients eligible for Zyntelgo are covered by commercial health insurance, with most of the rest using Medicaid. Bluebird is offering payers a sizeable refund if the treatment underperforms or fails. If patients still need blood transfusions within two years after receiving Zyntelgo, bluebird will refund the payer up to 80% of the treatment’s costs.

Payers recognize the benefits of using value-based drug pricing agreements

Outcome-based agreements help payers address any uncertainty about the effectiveness of a new treatment, gain insight into a drug’s value to patient health outcomes, and reduce the risk of overpaying for a low-value treatment. The real-world evidence collected while managing value-based drug arrangements helps manufacturers justify their list price and reinforces refunds and rebates to the payer if the treatment doesn’t deliver results as expected. So why has there not been greater use of value-based drug agreements?

Regulatory barriers to value-based drug purchasing arrangements eliminated

This year, U.S. legislators have addressed most of the legislative hurdles that, in the past, hindered value-based drug purchasing arrangements. Policymakers updated two pieces of legislation to support increased adoption of value-based drug pricing agreements.

The Medicaid Best Price rule was changed in July, allowing pharmaceutical manufacturers taking part in Medicaid to report multiple best prices. This was followed by the passage of the the Inflation Reduction Act in August, which allows Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers over the prices of some of the most expensive drugs covered by the Medicare program.

Overcoming technological challenges to implementing value-based drug agreements

Another significant obstacle to increased adoption of value-based drug pricing arrangements has been the difficulty in operationalizing complex, data-driven, outcome-based contracts. These non-traditional agreements require a powerful, interoperable contracting software platform with extensive data collection and analysis capabilities to make real-world evidence both accessible and insightful.

To take on an outcome-based contract, an organization has two options. The first is to develop the IT framework in-house and devote management resources to monitor compliance and data security. This option is expensive, time-consuming, and beyond the current capabilities of many organizations.

The second option is to outsource the administrative burden of an outcome-based contract. In recent years, third-party vendors have developed comprehensive contracting software to bridge the gap and help manufacturers, payers, and providers transition from fee-for-service into value-based agreements.


The Lyfegen Solution

Lyfegen is an independent, global analytics company that offers a software-as-a-service platform for healthcare insurances, pharma, and medtech companies wanting to participate in value-based drug pricing agreements without making large investments in software upgrades. With extensive industry expertise and a vast library of resources, we can assess your current capabilities and advise and guide you through pre-implementation. Deployment of our customizable and scalable contracting platform is quick and integrates seamlessly into your existing workflow without compromising data security or compliance.

Lyfegen’s software platform includes three-fold functionality to implement value-based, data-driven agreements with greater efficiency and transparency: data ingestion, agreement execution, and insights generation. The Lyfegen Platform collects real-world data and uses intelligent algorithms to provide valuable information about drug performance and cost.

By enabling the shift away from volume-based and fee-for-service healthcare to value-based healthcare, Lyfegen increases access to healthcare treatments and their affordability.

To learn more about our services and the Lyfegen Platform, book a demo.


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