Immunotherapy Requires New Strategies for Oncology Practices

Tony Hagen @oncobiz
Published: Tuesday, Feb 21, 2017
Immunotherapy
Immuno-oncology (I-O) drugs can improve the level of care in many respects, but they bring a host of problems related to implementation that demands a new set of strategies, according to a white paper from the Institute for Clinical Immuno-Oncology (ICLIO). High on the list of needs is more staff training, because I-O treatment is still a frontier and providers need to augment their understanding of the many new drugs that have been approved. Not only oncologists but also nurses and other care providers need this training to play the essential roles in which they serve, the paper said.

In addition, patient perspectives must be incorporated into providers’ understanding of how and when to use these new drugs, because a patient’s own perception of value is sometimes very different from the provider’s point of view. “While there is as yet little consensus on how to best define and measure the specific value of I-O therapeutics, including combinations—ICLIO Stakeholder Summit participants broadly agreed that any adequate assessment of value needs to move beyond the cost of a particular drug and its biologic effectiveness and incorporate patient perspectives on value,” the paper said. For example, patients may be more concerned about quality and length of life.

The paper, “Immuno-Oncology: There’s More to Discover,” was based on discussion and conclusions from the ICLIO Stakeholder Summit held in late 2016 in Philadelphia. Other hindrances to adoption of I-O therapies include restrictive payer policies and the lack of a comprehensive method for weighing the clinical and cost value of these new therapies, the paper said.

Payers are very cautious about covering immunotherapies, an expensive class of medicine for which data are still needed to understand health benefits, and this means that physicians often don’t have the flexibility they would like to prescribe medications, the paper said. Payer-policy changes tend to lag behind FDA label changes and new medication approvals, payer guidelines sometimes define indications for drugs more narrowly than the FDA does, and payment requirements are often complicated and time-consuming. “It is increasingly evident that some payers request extensive prior authorization information from providers,” the authors wrote.

Valuation Tools Need Refinement

No fully useful drug valuation system has been established so far to help physicians and patients clearly understand the costs and benefits of these drugs. Several drug valuation tools have emerged in recent years, and these hold out promise for resolving the conflict between payer notions of value and physician and patient ideas about value. However, the paper described these as “first generation” tools, and, indeed, there are fresh efforts underway to inject clarity into the debate over how much clinical and cost value immunotherapies bring to the treatment of cancer.

A group of oncology industry professionals who discussed these issues at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer meeting in November have developed a position paper on the need for greater refinement in judging the value of I-O drugs and intend to spearhead a drive to improve existing valuation tools or develop a new one.

One of the concerns identified by the ICLIO review is that there is a need to look beyond the costs and benefits of individual I-O drugs and weigh the supplementary care that may be required as patients progress through the treatment process. Additional costs of care will arise as these drugs are increasingly combined with other medications. “This will make it more difficult to assign a dollar amount to the concept of value,” the authors wrote

Providers are also concerned about payment models and whether these will accommodate innovative approaches to using I-O drugs, the paper said. Established payment models represent an obstacle to progress, because their quality measures tend to emphasize lowering costs more than promoting innovation, the authors wrote. The newer alternative payment models (APMs) that are emerging may provide relief because they are more focused on managing the cost of care while maintaining or improving care quality. Immuno-oncology drugs, if they turn out to be as cost effective and beneficial as some believe, potentially could fit well with these models and the way their financial incentives are designed.


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