Controversial move by CMS limits coverage for new Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm 

Published in RINewsToday on April 25, 2022

Earlier this month, amid the pleas of the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, and other aging advocacy groups, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) made its final decision to limit their Medicare coverage of the controversial Alzheimer’s drug, ADUHELM® , for only those Medicare recipients participating in clinical studies overseen by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or in other approved clinical trials.

When releasing its decision on April 7, CMS noted from the onset, the federal agency “ran a transparent, evidence-based process that incorporated more than 10,000 stakeholder comments and more than 250 peer-reviewed documents into the determination” to make its decision.

Calls for More Rigorous Studies

According to CMS, over 6 million older Americans are believed to have Alzheimer’s, and this prevalence is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060, barring effective interventions. CMS stated that effective treatments are needed, and because of the early, but promising, evidence and the immense burden of this devastating disease on the Medicare population, the agency is finalizing Medicare coverage, calling for rigorous studies approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and NIH to help answer whether this class of drugs improves health outcomes for patients.

“Science, evidence, and stakeholder input led our team of career civil servants and clinicians through this national coverage determination process. There is potential for promise with this treatment; however, there is not currently enough evidence of demonstrating improving health outcomes to say that it is reasonable and necessary for people with Medicare, which is key consideration for CMS when making national coverage determination, said Dr. Lee Fleisher, CMS Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, in a statement announcing CMS’s regulatory payment decision.

“In arriving at this final decision, we looked at the unique circumstances around this class of treatments and made a decision that weighed the potential for patient benefit against the significance of serious unknown factors that could lead to harm,” added Fleisher. “If a drug in this class shows evidence of clinical benefit through the traditional FDA approval process, then CMS will provide broad access and ensure the results from the rigorous trials are generalizable for people with Medicare participating in a CMS-approved study, such as a registry,” she said, noting that this decision was made to provide CMS flexibility to respond quickly to providing coverage for any new drugs in this class showing a clinical benefit. 

Biogen, a biotechnology company that manufacturers ADUHELM®m , was quick to give its opinion about CMS’s final decision about coverage of this drug. The Cambridge, Massachusetts based company charged that “this unprecedented decision effectively denies all Medicare beneficiaries access to ADUHELM®m , the first and only FDA approved therapy in a new class of Alzheimer’s drugs. It may also limit coverage for any future approved treatment in the class. These coverage restrictions, including the distinction between accelerated approval and traditional approval, have never been applied to FDA-approved medicines for other disease areas.”

When additional data from this new class of treatments become available, Biogen urged CMS to reconsider its final decision for all FDA-approved amyloid-beta targeting therapies. The company says that it is carefully considering its options and will provide updates as the company further evaluates the business impact of this decision.

Creating Unnecessary Barriers to Care 

Calling the CMS decision wrong, the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association expressed deep disappointment, charging that it has essentially ignored the needs of people living with Alzheimer’s disease. “CMS has created unnecessary barriers for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with Alzheimer’s, a fatal disease, should have FDA approved treatments covered by Medicare just as those facing other diseases do,” said Harry Johns, Alzheimer’s Association chief executive officer. 

Notably, CMS has said in its decision the only way for patients to access the first approved FDA treatment targeting amyloid in those living with Alzheimer’s is to enroll in a clinical trial. While we note CMS has expanded where those clinical trials may take place, in reality this remains an unnecessary and never before imposed barrier to access an FDA-approved treatment, says Johns.

“People living with MCI, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia deserve the same access to therapies given to those living with other conditions like cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. They deserve the opportunity to assess if an FDA-approved treatment is right for them,” said Joanne Pike, Dr.P.H., Alzheimer’s Association president. “Drugs that treat people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s could mean more time for individuals to actively participate in daily life, have sustained independence and hold on to memories longer,” she said.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, CMS has incorporated one of its recommendations into the final rule. “Importantly, CMS has decided to utilize a registry for future treatments granted full FDA approval. The Alzheimer’s Association registry will play an important role in collecting and analyzing real-world data. This registry will monitor and report clinical and safety endpoints for patients treated with FDA-approved AD therapies, including accompanying diagnostics, to track the long-term outcomes associated with these therapies in real-world settings. Similar successful registries in heart disease and cancer have enabled researchers, clinicians, health systems and payers to track the long-term performance of therapies using a large, real-world evidence dataset,” the advocacy group says. 

The Alzheimer’s Association also expressed strong concern about the immediate impact CMS’s decision will have on Alzheimer’s and dementia research and innovation. “The agency’s decision to essentially reject the Accelerated Approval Pathway for monoclonal antibodies targeting amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is broad overreach. Accelerated approval is a pathway created by Congress and utilized by FDA to allow for earlier approval of drugs that treat serious conditions, and that fill an unmet medical need. Alzheimer’s is a deadly disease with no survivors,” stated the advocacy group.

“The decision by CMS is a step backward for families facing Alzheimer’s disease,” said Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer. “Years of increased research funding has led to more progress and innovation than ever before, but today’s decision may halt this progress as developers question if there is a pathway forward to coverage,” she said.

Calls for Reducing Cost of Medicare Part B Premiums

Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, calls on CMS to “swiftly reduce the hefty 2022 Medicare Part B premium increase ($21.60 per month), now that the agency has made its final decision to limit coverage of the controversial Alzheimer’s drug, ADUHELM®m, to patients in clinical trials.” 

“The spike in Medicare Part B premiums was partly based on the drug’s exorbitant cost (originally priced at $56,000 per year) and the potential expense of wider coverage,” says Richtman, noting that the agency is still “reviewing” Part B premiums, under previous direction from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Medicare beneficiaries struggling to pay their bills need relief from this year’s premium increase as soon as possible, warns Richtman. .

“The Aduhelm controversy highlights the urgent need for Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. If the price of Aduhelm had been negotiated, it is unlikely that it would have impacted Medicare premiums so dramatically in the first place,”  adds Richtman, 

For a fact sheet on Medicare coverage policy for monoclonal antibodies directed against amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, visit https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/medicare-coverage-policy-monoclonal-antibodies-directed-against-amyloid-treatment-alzheimers-disease.

To read the final NCD CED decision memorandum, visit https://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/view/ncacal-decision-memo.aspx?proposed=N&ncaid=305.

Senate Spending Bill Increases Research Dollars to Combat Alzheimer’s disease

Published in the Woonsocket Call on August 26, 2018

Last Wednesday evening, the US Senate overcame political gridlock by passing a 2019 fiscal “Minibus” spending bill that allocates funding for the Department of Defense; and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (accounting for 65 percent of all discretionary spending). Within the Health and Human Services appropriation, the National Institutes of Health’s budget increased by $2 billion to $39.1 billion, a 5.4 percent increase over the agency’s current funding level.

The Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations bill passed on Augusts 23 by a broad bipartisan vote of 85 to 7, the spending bill combining the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed FY 2019 Labor-HHS spending bill (S. 3158) with the text of the Senate committee-passed Defense spending bill (S. 3159). The Senate-passed appropriations bill, with both Rhode Island Senators supporting, adds an additional $425 million for Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a total of $2.3 billion. The increases in Alzheimer’s funding surpasses the $2 billion research goal of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. If signed into law, this would mark the fourth consecutive year of historic action by the U.S. Congress to address the growing Alzheimer’s epidemic through funding research.

As to other NIH health initiatives, the 2019 fiscal spending bill also allocated $429.4 million for the BRAIN initiative to map the human brain, (a $29 million increase), and $376 million for the All of Us precision medicine study, this was $86 million more than in FY 2018.

The Senate Labor, Health and Services, and Education appropriations subcommittee first recommended the Alzheimer’s funding increases in June, with the full Senate appropriations committee later giving its support.

Bipartisan Support for Combating Alzheimer’s Disease

Ahead of the Senate floor vote, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS, called for increased federal dollars to invest in research to find a prevention and cure for Alzheimer’s disease. “Treating those with Alzheimer’s costs taxpayers $21 million every hour and, without a treatment or cure, will top $1.1 trillion by 2050 – about twice as much as the annual defense budget,” the Senator calculated.

Blunt warned his Senate colleagues that the nation must get serious with confronting the Alzheimer’s epidemic and finding a cure through research. The Senator stated: “Every hour, Alzheimer’s disease costs taxpayers at least $21 million. Every single hour. Someone in the United States is developing Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds,” noting that $277 billion in tax dollars are spent a year on Alzheimer’s and dementia-related care. It’s hard to talk about this without giving numbers, but numbers are not the most riveting thing, particularly when you talk about millions, or billions, or even trillions.

“What does that really mean? That really means that we’re spending basically an amount equal to half of the defense budget on Alzheimer’s and dementia-related care. Just the overwhelming impact of that, if we don’t do something differently than we’re doing right now, just because of the projected long life and demographics of the country, in 2050, which is 32 years from now, we’ll be spending, in today’s dollars, $1.1 trillion on Alzheimer’s and dementia care. $ 1.1 trillion… That’s twice the defense budget of last year, twice the defense budget. …,” says Blunt

“If we could just delay onset of Alzheimer’s, if we could figure out how to come up with something that would slow down the onset of that disease. If we could delay onset by an average of five years, we’d cut that $1.1 trillion by 42 percent, almost in half. If we could have the average person that gets Alzheimer’s, get it five years later than they are getting Alzheimer’s today, almost half, 42 percent of that $1.1 trillion would go away,” said Blunt.

Greater Investment in Alzheimer’s Funding Still Needed

With the Senate appropriations bill pumping more federal dollars into Alzheimer’s research, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s Chairman George Vradenburg issued a statement
saying: “We believe that Alzheimer’s is the second inconvenient truth of the 21st century. Alzheimer’s is the century’s most fearsome — and inevitable — health and social economic threat to the baby boom and future generations, including, in particular, to women and communities of color. Even with this strong commitment from the Senate, greater investment is still needed if we are to deliver meaningful progress in care and treatment to the six million Americans, 50 million globally, living with this disease and their more than 16 million caregivers. In addition to supporting research, we must elevate brain health as an important part of the path to a cure through regular primary care physician assessments of cognitive health — and early and accurate diagnosis of the cause of any cognitive impairment. The Concentrating on High-value Alzheimer’s Needs to Get to an End (CHANGE) Act, comprehensive legislation aimed at overcoming barriers to a faster cure for Alzheimer’s disease, does just that and we urge Congress to pass the CHANGE Act immediately.”

The Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) also applauded the Senate’s 2019 spending bill that puts more money into Alzheimer’s research. “Every 65 seconds someone in the U.S. develops the disease,” said Harry Johns, Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) President and CEO. “But, thanks to increased NIH funding American scientists are now advancing basic disease knowledge, ways to reduce risk, new biomarkers for early diagnosis and drug targeting, and developing the needed treatments to move to clinical testing,” he says.

The Senate appropriations bill now goes to conference negotiations with the House and must be signed into law by President Donald Trump. The 2019 Fiscal Year begins October. 1.