Optum: 5 (more) drugs in the pipeline set to impact payers, patients

The outside of Optum's headquarters
Optum has released a new list of drugs in the pipeline for payers to watch. (UnitedHealth Group)

OptumRx has released the second of its quarterly insights in the pharmaceutical pipeline, highlighting five more drugs in development that could have a significant impact on insurers and patients. 

The third-quarter list stands in contrast to prior reports as most of the featured drugs are emerging treatments for common conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and chronic migraines instead of “orphan” drugs or those targeting rare diseases, which are typically quite costly. 

Sumit Dutta, chief medical officer at OptumRx and the report’s author, told FierceHealthcare that there’s likely to be a significant demand from patients with these conditions who have struggled to manage them using other medications. 

“Many of these medications can a different or novel approach to treatment and are likely to benefit larger groups of patients,” Dutta said. 

RELATED: Optum—5 drugs set to have the biggest impact on payers and patients 

The drugs noted in the latest report are: 

  1. Luspatercept, an investigational product used to treat anemia patients who have very low to intermediate risk of the blood disorders known as myelodysplastic syndrome and beta thalassemia. The drug helps patients produce more red blood cells. 

  1. Cabotegravir/rilpivirine combination, made up of two drugs used in tandem to treat HIV. The combination product, if approved, would be the first long-acting, injectable treatment for HIV. 

  1. Brolucizumab, a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. 

  1. Oral semaglutide, a Type 2 diabetes treatment that works by mimicking a hormone that stimulates insulin production after eating and may help some patients lose weight. This would be the first version of this product in pill form. 

  1. Ubrogepant, a new oral migraine treatment. 

Ubrogepant is a prime example of a drug that could draw significant patient demand for a common need, Dutta said. The drug works as a calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitor but is designed to ease headaches in process instead of preventing them, which is how existing injectable CGRP inhibitors work. 

“The difference in indication and administration are important distinctions,” Dutta said. 

RELATED: 5 drugs in development Optum says payers, employers should be watching 

CGRP drugs also offer an alternative to triptans, which are the most commonly prescribed class of drugs for migraines, as one-third of patients do not respond to them. However, triptans are far cheaper than existing injectable CGRP inhibitors, Dutta said, available for as little as $20 to $30 per month as a generic. 

Injectable CGRPs, by comparison, have a list price of $6,900 per year, or $575 per month, which is why payers should be keeping an eye out if an easier-to-provide oral medication is approved, according to the report. 

“Health plans and their clients should work with their pharmacy benefit managers to monitor the drug pipeline and assess where these drugs fit within the market,” Dutta said.