Asembia 2021: 5 Takeaways from Specialty Pharmacy Meeting

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Growth, competition and equity were among the topics discussed at the Asembia’s 2021 Specialty Pharmacy Summit in Las Vegas this week

Specialty pharmacy is a growing part of the pharmacy business, and it is getting increasingly competitive and complicated as therapies get more expensive — some with price tags in the seven figures. But speakers at Asembia’s 2021 Specialty Pharmacy Summit also stressed issues of health equity, health literacy and making it easier for patients to navigate healthcare, including specialty pharmacy services.

More than 4,000 people attended the Oct. 26-28 meeting at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel in Las Vegas. Attendees were required to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 and masks were required indoors, although only about half of the attendees wore masks.

Here are 5 takeaways from the meeting:

More growth and with it, competition.

Adam Fein, Ph.D., an expert on the drug industry, told the attendees that specialty pharmacy is projected to account for more than 50% of the pharma’s revenues in the next three or four years. He also painted a picture of specialty pharmacies getting absorbed into vertically integrated healthcare organizations that are competing for the business. “Everyone is figuring this out and this is where the battle is happening between these different vertically integrated systems.”

Telepharmacy is gaining ground

Lance Grady of Avalere spoke about the mail-order and telepharmacy gaining a foothold during the pandemic and perhaps shaping its future. Heather Bonome, Pharm.D., director of pharmacy at URAC, said demonstration of telehealth capabilities may soon be added to URAC’s accreditation requirements.

Communication is key

Numerous speakers touched on the theme of communication, with particular emphasis on keeping channels open between specialty pharmacies and manufacturers and between specialty pharmacies and patients. In a session on rare diseases, Nick Calla, J.D., and Dave Frobel of Orsini said because families and patients may experience many years of doubt and worry prior to a definitive diagnosis, specialty pharmacies need to do everything in their power to make the treatment as navigable as possible. “It's a different dynamic than what you'd see in a traditional pharmacy manufacturer relationship,” Calla noted.

The dominance of oncology drugs

It’s no secret that number and expense of oncology drugs has had a major effect on specialty pharmacy and pharmacy expenditures and management. Michelle Booth of Magellan Rx Management said that oncology drugs were the top spend category for commercial, Medicare and Medicaid lines of business. Ray Tancredi, MBA, RPh, a divisional vice president at Walgreens, who gave a presentation on the drug pipeline, said there are 2,400 oncology in some stage of development.

The challenges of health equity

Health equity was the focus of one session at the Asembia meeting, but other speakers also delved into the topic. The panelists for session on health equity stressed understanding the specific needs of patient populations as way to improve outcomes and bring about individualized care. “We always have to think about customizing it, really delivering that patient-centered, whole-person healthcare,” said Lilian Ndehi, Pharm.D., MBA, BCPS of Humana.

In his talk on the future of specialty pharmacy, George Van Antwerp of Deloitte, as enthusiastic about the technologies that may disrupt specialty pharmacy and healthcare overall. But he also warned about patients not being able to keep up; health literacy is already a problem, he noted.