A two-combo cancer therapy has received FDA authorization for clinical researchers at a cancer center to begin a safety and effectiveness study. New data may have identified a genetic risk for lung cancer. The Trump Administration earmarked more money for states to conduct additional COVID-19 testing with an emphasis on identification and contact tracing. CMS is seeing an increase in vulnerable patients using digital technology to connect with their pharmacists. These and more are the top stories in this week’s Innovation Partners BioBlog.

Innovation Partners Weekly Curated Bioblog

Roswell Park to Assess Immunotherapy Combination in Cancer Patients With COVID-19

A two-combination drug therapy first evaluated at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Care Center The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized clinical researchers at the center to conduct a study assessing the safety and effectiveness of giving both rintatolimod and interferon alfa to cancer patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The study is one of very few worldwide to repurpose an experimental cancer therapy as treatment for COVID-19.holds promise for COVID-19 patients. This is one of the few examples of COVID-19 research coming from academic studies rather than pharmaceutical companies.

Genetic variant could identify lung cancer susceptibility

New findings indicate a genetic variant may identify lung cancer susceptibility. An international consortium of researchers led by a team at the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine have identified a mutation involved in a person’s susceptibility to lung cancer. This might help identify certain populations at greater risk for lung cancer. The group identified a genetic variant that changes the protein sequence of the ATM gene. The ATM gene is involved in repair of DNA damage and has been implicated in a rare syndrome that includes cancer susceptibility. However, susceptibility to lung cancer has never been clearly recognized as a part of its effects until this genetic variant was identified.

CMS pitches increase in inpatient rates, new payment category for CAR-T

The Trump administration proposed changes for acute care and long-term care hospitals including an approximately 1.6% increase to inpatient hospital stay payments.
The change is expected to increase total Medicare spending on inpatient hospital services by about $2.1 billion in the fiscal year beginning in October. The goal is to reduce readmissions. It’s among changes proposed as part of the agency’s annual Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS), which governs reimbursement for inpatient care. Also proposed is a new hospital payment category for CAR-T therapy.

Trump administration allocates $11B for COVID-19 testing as faster tests get approved

The Trump Administration is offering $11 billion to the states to help them increase the quantity and speed with which they can offer COVID-19 testing. States are being asked in return for a testing plan and strategy for contact tracing once positive infections are confirmed. The funding is from the CARES Act that included $2.2 trillion in economic relief funding. Despite criticism of how the testing has been handled to date, officials defended the current testing program, saying the response was swift given the unprecedented testing demands.

CVS is adapting its strategy for specialty pharmacy for COVID-19. Here’s how

CVS continues to adapt its specialty pharmacy strategy to reach the most vulnerable patients using digital technology. The company reports a 30% increase in March in encounter volume through CVS Specialty’s secure messaging tool. The tool allows pharmacists to text patients answers to questions about their medication or address concerns they have. Caremark also offers a Pharmacy Advisor program to members with a slew of chronic conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and depression. Caremark partnered with PBM Health Plant clients to proactively help them manage their conditions.

CMS promotes value-based insurance design in final payment notice for 2021

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has issued a final rule that promotes insurance plan designs that will lower premium costs. CMS states that the final Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for the 2021 benefit year contains several provisions intended to promote affordable insurance coverage. The rulemakes it easier for plans in the individual market to offer wellness incentives to enrollees by recognizing certain incentives as quality improvement activities and to focus on items that individuals want by making some items zero cost-sharing, such as high blood pressure monitoring or cardiac rehabilitation.