In this week’s Innovation Partners BioBlog, we sum up the week’s news about the many changes the healthcare industry is undergoing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The drive to reopen the United States economy will start in pharmacies as more pledge to increase access to COVID-19 tests. Organizations urge Congress to help unemployed people maintain or continue their health insurance coverage as the unemployment numbers continue to surge. Ilaris, a drug made by Novartis that targets IL-1beta cytokines will be tested as a possible COVID-19 treatment with results available sometime this summer. More of the week’s top stories are available in this week’s BioBlog.

Innovation Partners Weekly BioBlog May 3 2020

CVS, Walgreens pledge to ramp up COVID-19 testing efforts as White House takes aim at reopening economy

The Trump administration unveiled an 8-step plan intended to help states reopen their economies. Key components include testing plans and rapid response efforts. Major pharmacy chains including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Kroger vowed to increase self-swab COVID-19 testing. CVS said it will have 1,000 testing centers open by May with capacity to run 1.5 million tests per month as long as labs and supplies are available, while Walgreens plans to open drive-through testing. According to the administration, 5.4 million COVID-19 tests have been performed to date in 45 days.

AHA, AHIP team with U.S. Chamber urging Congress to protect coverage during pandemic

Hospital, payer, physician, and other healthcare groups urged Congress to ensure coverage is protected during the COVID-19 pandemic. A letter issued by 32 organizations including the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked Congress to protect employer health coverage and ensure continued coverage as unemployment soars. The increase in uninsured people may cause grave problems as people put off healthcare needs. Cigna released new data this week that indicates this is already occurring. The insurer saw a drop in claims for heart-related conditions, for example, which may mean that people are putting off medical care due to cost concerns.

Syndax Pharmaceuticals Announces Preclinical Profile and Initial Phase 1 Data Demonstrating Clinical Activity of Menin Inhibitor SNDX-5613 in Adults with Relapsed/Refractory Acute Leukemias

Syndax Pharmaceuticals, Inc. will deliver a virtual presentation at the New Drugs on the Horizon session at the 2020 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Virtual Annual Meeting I. The New Drugs on the Horizon session features discussions of innovative small molecules and biologics that have recently entered Phase 1 clinical trials. Briggs W. Morrison, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of Syndax, said that the first clinical evidence that disrupting the interaction between menin and MLL1 with the potent and selective inhibitor, SNDX-5613, can induce response in patients with genetically-defined acute leukemias.

SCOTUS sides with insurers in battle over risk corridor payments

The Supreme Court ruled that insurers are owed $12 billion in unpaid funds from the Affordable Care Act. The court rules 8-1 on Monday that the ACA’s risk corridor program created an obligation for the federal government to pay health plans promised funds. The government collected the funds but failed to pay them to insurance companies. Risk corridors were created to encourage health plans to participate. Money collected from excess profits was collected by the government for the risk corridor, but the corridor closed in 2016. The court rules that the corridor created an obligation that the government must pay.

Oncology practices detail quick switch to telehealth, barriers to using technology permanently

Oncologists, like many other specialists, had access to telehealth services, but were reluctant to utilize the new technology until the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to do so. Now, they are finding some surprising benefits using virtual technology. Patients who choose to include family members in consultations can now do so more easily using telehealth services and include family members separated by geographic distance. Communication among practice leaders and staff has also improved through the use of virtual technology. Many plan to continue using it in the future.

Novartis, already trialing hydroxychloroquine and Jakafi, plans COVID-19 testing for Ilaris

Novartis’ immunology medication, Ilaris (canakinumab), shows promise in the fight against COVID-19. Ilaris will begin a phase 3 trial to see if it is effective against the novel coronavirus. The drug is currently approved to treat inflammatory disease including juvenile idiopathic arthritis and is currently undergoing testing as a potential drug to use against non-small cell lung cancer. Some COVID-19 patients undergo an immune system reaction called a cytokine storm that can lead to organ damage. COVID-19 patients show elevated IL-1beta cytokine, which Ilaris targets. Initial results are expected this summer.