Week of March 21, 2022

This week we highlight continued investment in virtual trials, robotic injections, costs of COVID-19 treatments and the need to understand drug safety for pregnant patients. Finally, we look at the most recent round of drug pricing reform in Congress which aims to reduce insulin prices.

Each week we highlight five things you need to know about in the life sciences industry. Here’s the latest.

As existing contract research organizations are embracing decentralized and virtual trials, it is driving investments into new companies and tools. This is taking the form of mergers, acquisitions and investments in clinical tech companies. This trend was catalyzed by the pandemic, but the promise of more accessible and effective trials is making continued investment durable even as the pandemic fades.

Even for a trained medical practitioner, tapping into a vein or artery on the first jab can be elusive. In the back of an ambulance or among first responders, it can be even more difficult and preclude the use of many treatments. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed artificial intelligence-driven, handheld robotics that promise to make the process easier and to allow a broader range of practitioners to deliver treatment that require direct injection into arteries.

The United States federal government has provided funding to make most vaccines and COVID-19 drugs free for most residents of the U.S. However, for some treatments, it is just the drug that is paid for by the federal government and the cost of administration falls to insurers or patients. For some drugs that are in short supply, patients are having to travel and go outside their insurance network, which often means they are incurring substantial costs.

Historically, the United States and health systems have taken a cautious approach to including pregnant patients in clinical trials. This has resulted in as many as 90% of drugs having no safety data available specific to pregnancy. Since approximately 20% of pregnant women have at least one chronic disease, this forces patients and doctors to make decisions on what treatments to continue and which to stop based on limited or no data. Now, researchers are challenging this status quo and are looking at ways to gather real world evidence to fill these gaps.

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin at $35, but it seems unlikely to pass. Insulin costs in the U.S. are currently 10 times higher than it costs in other similar countries. This can lead to substantial burdens to families that include diabetic members. Although the bill is unlikely to gather enough bipartisan support to pass in the Senate, this is seen as a way to build momentum for possible drug pricing reforms to be included in the next reconciliation act which could be passed along party lines.

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