Business briefs: Walgreens; Pfizer; Roche

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Walgreens announced Thursday that it is expanding its retail Take Care Clinics services to include diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and asthma. This is in addition to services like flu vaccinations, which are a regular part of drugstore chain offerings. Walgreens said in statement that its retail offerings help address “existing gaps in patient care and demands on an already overburdened healthcare system.” Take Care clinicians, who include nurse practitioners and physician assistants, will also recommend and order screenings or lab tests. Chief Medical Officer of the Take Care Clinics, Alan London, told Modern Healthcare that about half of the clinics patients don't have primary care physicians. “We're filling a niche for patients who needed access,” he said.

Pfizer CEO Ian Read reiterated that the company plans to keep its consumer health portfolio of brands, which include Chapstick and Advil. Bloomberg said Read considers the unit an important lever for “selling prescription drugs that become over-the-counter-products.” ISI analyst Mark Schoenebaum told Bloomberg that cleaving the OTC division from Pfizer proper could have some value, but also noted that it would also make sense to bundle generics and consumer if the company goes ahead with a split between new and established products. Elsewhere in Pfizer news, Reuters reports that Boston appellate judges won't budge on a $142 million ruling that held the drugmaker responsible for marketing epilepsy drug Neurontin off-label. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan brought the lawsuit.

Generic statins help lower hospitalization costs, new data from PBM Prime Therapeutics and insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota show. The catch, of course, is adherence—patients need to take the drugs for health and financial benefits. Prime Therapeutics found that 46% of the patients surveyed over two years were adherent, and of these, 25% were hospitalized, compared to the 27.6% of non-adherent patients. Adherent patients also had lower medical costs than their non-adherent peers—$11,353 vs. $12,375. Yet an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine says patients resist regular statin therapy for a variety of reasons, including side effects, whether real or perceived, and pill fatigue. The Annals editorial also notes that many statin patients are on multiple meds, and that “most persons are not attuned to taking drugs every day for a lifetime.” On the upside, getting patients back on statin therapy sometimes just requires doctors to bring it up.

Layering treatments has promise, but Phase I melanoma tests combining Roche's Zelboraf (vemurafenib) and BMS's Yervoy (ipilimumab) show that two good treatments do not necessarily mean great results. In this case, the combination was associated with liver toxicity. Leerink Swann analyst Seamus Fernandez called the finding unsatisfactory, but said it's but not enough to dissuade key opinion leaders from trying other immunotherapy combinations. Instead, Fernandez wrote, KOLs took the results to mean “successful development will likely require multiple iterations” before finding “the next evolution of treatment in melanoma.”
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