In a final decision on the funding of the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab (Aduhelm), federal officials largely stuck to their draft plan to limit Medicare payment to patients enrolled in clinical trials.
On Thursday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released its national coverage determination (NCD) for funding aducanumab and other anticipated similar drugs that target beta-amyloid in the brain, which is considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
In a press release, the CMS said its decision is a two-part policy pegged to the strength of currently available evidence for anti-amyloid agents.
As reported by Medscape Medical Newslast year the FDA approved aducanumab using the accelerated approval pathway, a decision that sparked a great deal of controversy and led to the resignation of three members of the FDA’s advisory panel on the drug.
In its final decision, CMS set far less restrictive conditions for potential coverage of future cases where there’s enough evidence for the FDA to grant traditional, or full, approval to anti-amyloid drugs. In such cases, coverage would be pegged to participation in CMS-approved studies, such as a data collection through routine clinical practice or registries.
“Any new drugs in this class that receive FDA traditional approval may be available in additional care settings that people with Medicare can use, such as an outpatient department or an infusion center,” CMS said.
In addition, the agency also offered more flexibility for coverage of aducanumab and similar amyloid-targeting antibody drugs under accelerated approvals, for which CMS will require participation in clinical trials.
Commenting on the decision, Howard Fillit, MD, co-founder and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF), applauded this stipulation.
“With this decision, Medicare will now provide coverage for patients enrolled in any FDA- or NIH-approved trial. This is an important change that will expand access for more patients to access the drug in additional settings,” Fillit said.
“Although this is an improvement, it would have been preferable for CMS to include patient registries, which collect real-world evidence that more closely reflects the actual population living with Alzheimer’s, compared to the limited populations that enroll in clinical trials. This approach would also have extended coverage of Aduhelm to more patients currently living with Alzheimer’s disease,” he added.
He also welcomed the flexibility CMS outlined for future coverage of drugs with more compelling data.
“If you’ve seen one anti-amyloid antibody, then you’ve seen one anti-amyloid antibody. Drugs in the same class are not necessarily equal and each should be evaluated and made available to patients on their own merits,” Fillit said .
In a statement, Biogen disagreed with CMS’ limit on aducanumab’s coverage, and protested the two-tiered approach created for amyloid-targeting antibody drugs.
“These coverage restrictions, including the distinction between accelerated approval and traditional approval, have never been applied to FDA-approved medicines for other disease areas,” Biogen said.
Biogen and other critics of the CMS decision contend it deny patients access to a medication that might slow AD-related cognitive decline, while supporters question whether using beta-amyloid clearance as an endpoint translates to clinical benefit.
CMS officials said the agency tried to make the process leading to today’s decision transparent and evidence-based. It noted it gathered more than 10,000 stakeholder comments and considered more than 250 peer-reviewed documents.
“This final National Coverage Determination reflects CMS’ commitment to provide the American public with a transparent, trusted, evidence-based decision — without regard to cost — that is made only after a thorough analysis of public feedback,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement.
“Through this decision, we are creating a pathway for people with Medicare to quickly access drugs the FDA determines have shown a clinical benefit and encourages manufacturers and trial administrators to ensure that the clinical trials recruit racially diverse participants,” she added.
CMS posted a fact sheet on the decision along with the decision memorandum.
Kerry Dooley Young is a freelance journalist based in Miami Beach, Florida. She is the core leader topic on patient safety issues for the Association of Health Care Journalists. Young earlier covered health policy and the federal budget for Congressional Quarterly/CQ Roll Call and the pharmaceutical industry and the Food and Drug Administration for Bloomberg. Follow her on Twitter at @kdooleyyoung.
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