After a necessary pause on events during the COVID-19 pandemic, industry leaders celebrated a return to the annual Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit this October. The Truveris team attended the three-day conference and came away with four core themes that will drive the dialogue in the specialty pharmacy ecosystem as the industry continues to grow. Read on to learn what thought-leaders are predicting to be the main drivers of change in 2022 – and beyond.
Takeaway #1: The expansion of specialty products
It’s no surprise that the evolution of specialty drugs was mentioned consistently during Asembia 2021. We already know that by 2023, 65% of all new drug launches will be for specialty therapies. Additionally, specialty medication costs are increasing by over 10% each year, driving market awareness to the specialty category.
What’s new to the discussion this year is the evolving definition of specialty drugs. With the exponential growth of the specialty market, the definition of what constitutes a specialty product – and the range of products included in the category – has expanded. Traditionally, specialty products were classified as high-cost, complex drugs used to treat rare conditions that also required high-touch distribution and/or administration. However, many conversations at Asembia focused on the entrance of a new class of specialty drugs: those that are costly, but nowhere near as expensive as the recently buzz-worthy treatments, such as the new, extraordinarily costly gene therapies. These lower-cost specialty drugs are still on the specialty formulary, but are non-orphan drugs that may not necessitate a traditional hub.
For this reason, now more than ever, it is critical for brand teams to think differently as they design an effective patient access journey. To that end, brands may choose to launch with a limited distribution strategy, which intentionally limits the number of specialty pharmacies to which they dispense in order to better manage the supply chain. Effectively, this approach releases the product in smaller batches, which makes for a more manageable inventory of drugs. The brand can ensure that pharmacists are specifically trained to dispense the medication, plus this approach also allows the brand to commit time towards patient engagement, which leads to empowered, engaged, and adherent patients.
Takeaway #2: Using technology to drive education and accessibility
In addition to navigating the specialty market, patient education was top of mind at Asembia 2021. Many manufacturers recognize the importance of patient education efforts throughout the fulfillment journey. It often takes many steps for a patient to get on therapy, thus necessitating information and tools for patients to use in order to advocate for themselves during the diagnosis and treatment process. This creates opportunities for brands to connect directly with patients in order to ease their burden on the path to treatment.
To do so, specialty brands are shifting toward harnessing technology to more cost-effectively drive education, transparency, affordability, and engagement. Educational campaigns, fueled by technology, are increasingly being disseminated not just to patients, but also to other key stakeholders, like physicians and pharmacists. The more educated each stakeholder is about the medication, the better the outcome for the patient.
Takeaway #3: Increasingly customizable patient access programs
Another consistent theme from Asembia 2021 was how important it is becoming to have hyper-targeted patient access for specialty products. Market access cannot be built with a one-size-fits-all approach, especially with more expensive and harder-to-access specialty products. For example, specialty brands often have multiple PAs and additional medical criteria that are difficult and time-consuming for patients to navigate. In addition, many payers have narrow specialty networks that may confuse and limit the patient further.
To combat these challenges, brands are selecting partners who can create custom copay offers for unique patient segments. Typically, it is a best practice for brands to select a partner who is an expert in their therapeutic area. These partners can craft “bridge programs” that establish copay offers at different points of the patient journey, all of which are aligned with certain payers and pharmacies. Bridge programs allow the brand to track access by patient segment, which is a critical approach to protecting gross-to-nets; when brands do not apply one flat copay offer across all situations, gross-to-nets are maximized.
Another much-discussed barrier to the access to specialty drugs is cost. With a real-time benefits check tool, patients can look up their out-of-pocket cost before they get to the pharmacy. This education and engagement tool helps alleviate patients’ concerns about price transparency. When patients feel educated on their out-of-pocket costs, they are better prepared to fill their prescription and stay adherent.
Takeaway #4: Connecting to employer groups
Employers also had a strong voice around the topic of specialty medications at Asembia 2021. Employers and plan sponsors voiced concerns about how to best offer life-changing specialty drugs to their employee populations, while balancing the high costs a specialty treatment can place on their plan. As all parties in the ecosystem interact, it is becoming clear that technology will serve as the connective tissue between benefit plans and productive patient access. With a robust pharmacy benefits platform, employers can procure more efficient specialty networks and track utilization over time, leading to cost savings and a proactive approach to specialty management.
Overwhelmingly, the ultimate takeaway from all stakeholders at Asembia 2021– pharmacies, manufacturers, PBMs, consultants, solution providers, and employers – was a commitment to improving human health. With technology, education, and informed patient access strategies, all stakeholders can support patients along their treatment journey, with less cost, confusion, and complexity.
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A special thank you to the Asembia team for a successful, thought-provoking summit.